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Trump’s comments create a lose-lose position for Justice

 |  November 14, 2017

Posted by Washington Post

Trump’s comments create a lose-lose position for Justice

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S disdain for CNN is no secret. He has repeatedly called it “fake news,” and he tweeted a video of himself attacking a CNN stand-in. Now, reports suggest the Justice Department may be pushing CNN’s owner Time Warner to sell the network as a condition of a corporate merger. The acquisition may pose legitimate antitrust concerns — but Mr. Trump’s behavior raises the specter of political retaliation, which in turn increases the need for transparency in the antitrust decision-making process.

AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner would place the telecommunications company in control of a portion of the entertainment it delivers, following in the footsteps of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC. Despite criticism that the deal would hand too much power to a single corporation, AT&T’s prospects seemed decent in recent months. The Federal Communications Commission allowed the proposal to move forward without lengthy review. Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, stated before taking office that the merger likely fell within the law.

But Mr. Delrahim appears to have changed his mind. The Financial Times and the New York Times each report multiple versions of a tense meeting between representatives of AT&T and the Justice Department. By some accounts, government lawyers informed AT&T that it would need to divest CNN’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting, or AT&T’s satellite broadcaster DirecTV. It’s not clear to what extent the government was concerned about CNN specifically or Turner Broadcasting as a whole: “It’s all about CNN,” one anonymous source told the Financial Times. Other sources say that AT&T offered to sell CNN but was told by the Justice Department that this wouldn’t be enough to quell antitrust concerns. Meanwhile, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson denies that the company ever suggested spinning off the network or that “the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN.”

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