WAR Over CNN

CNN is embroiled in yet another conflict this week, but this time it has nothing to do with their peddling of politically-motivated fake news. Or does it?

CNBC reports that the Justice Department has told AT&T that it has to sell off Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of the liberal news network, if it wants approval for a planned $85 billion merger with Time Warner.

“We are in active discussions with the [Department of Justice]. Those are continuing on. I can’t comment on those discussions, but with those discussions, I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain,” [AT&T’s chief financial officer John Stephens] said, according to a FactSet transcript. “With regards to the transaction, everything continues as we’ve expressed in the past.”

The AT&T executive spoke at the Wells Fargo Media & Telecom Conference in New York. The company previously guided for the deal to close by the end of 2017.

Stephens noted the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner is a “vertical integration” merger across industries. He cited how the government has not blocked a “vertical” deal in more than 40 years.

AT&T announced an agreement to acquire Time Warner in October 2016 for a cash and stock deal valued at more than $85 billion.

AT&T has responded that such a condition would be a non-starter:

“Until now, we’ve never commented on our discussions with the DOJ,” [AT&T CEO and chairman Randall] Stephenson said in a statement. “But given DOJ’s statement this afternoon, it’s important to set the record straight. Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so” […]

“The Department is committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts,” a DOJ spokesperson said in response to Stephenson’s statement. “Beyond that, the Department does not comment on any pending investigation.”

While on first glance this appears to be the usual, unremarkable regulatory slog of antitrust issues, plenty of people are naturally reading all of this through the lens of President Donald Trump’s famous, often expressed animus toward CNN for its record of bias and dishonesty against Republicans in general and Trump himself in particular.

As evidence for the theory that the administration is using the merger approval process to punish one of Trump’s political enemies, #NeverTrump scold David French points to the following passage in a New York Times report from this summer:

So is Trump abusing the law to go after CNN? Doubtful. Keep in mind that this process is being overseen by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is so terrified of even the appearance of any conflicts of interest that he recuses himself from investigations even when there’s no good reason to. So if he errs that overzealously on the side of a non-political DOJ, there’s no way he’s gaming the system to carry out a grudge for his boss.

That said, as the Right Scoop points out, regardless of whether or not it’s actually true, we can be confident that AT&T’s lawyers will point to Trump’s various tweets and public statements against CNN as evidence the administration’s denial of the merger was politically motivated.

How do you think all of this is going to shake out? Sound off below!

Hat tip: The Right Scoop