AT&T seemingly on track to buy Time Warner despite Trump’s anger at CNN.
AT&T seems to be on track to close its purchase of Time Warner Inc., but President Donald Trump’s hatred of Time Warner property CNN could still be a “wild card” in the deal.
Trump’s feud with CNN was described yesterday in a New York Times article titled “The Network Against the Leader of the Free World.” Within that article is one tidbit that could affect AT&T’s proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, which owns CNN and other media properties such as HBO and Turner Broadcasting System:
White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president’s animus toward CNN remains a wild card.
Separately, The Daily Caller wrote today that Trump doesn’t want the merger to be approved unless CNN President Jeff Zucker is fired. The conservative news website attributed the information to “a source familiar with President Trump’s thinking.”
Zucker told the New York Times that the pending merger has not affected his journalistic or management decisions.
Mixed signals despite Trump’s vow to block merger
There have been mixed signals about the merger for months. On the campaign trail last year, Trump vowed that his administration would not approve AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” But after the election, Trump’s transition team reportedly “reassured AT&T that its $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner will be scrutinized without prejudice.”
Today, CNBC reported that the AT&T/Time Warner “deal could close in as soon as 60 days,” although CNBC provided no further details on the status of the Justice Department’s merger review.
We contacted the White House and AT&T today and will update this story if we get any responses.
The Federal Communications Commission has already helped clear the path for AT&T to buy Time Warner without a lengthy public-interest review by approving Time Warner’s sale of its WPCH-TV license in Atlanta for $70 million to Meredith Corp. The FCC conducts public-interest reviews of mergers when FCC licenses are transferred, but Time Warner has been shedding its licenses to avoid any direct transfer of those licenses to AT&T. So far, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has not objected.
The Department of Justice could still sue to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger on antitrust grounds; a DOJ lawsuit could also force AT&T to agree to conditions in order to get the merger approved. The president hating CNN’s news coverage probably wouldn’t provide substantial grounds to block the merger, but Senate Democrats recently urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to block the deal if it “determine[s] that the substantial harms to competition and consumers arising from the transaction outweigh the purported benefits.”