Amid news reports that the Trump Justice Department is demanding that AT&T sell off CNN as a condition of its proposed merger with Time Warner, press freedom advocates and critics of corporate consolidation are warning that the president's personal vendetta against the network he has frequently accused of spreading "fake news"—and not a populist concern about excessive concentration of power—is the primary reason behind his opposition to the deal.
"If you think that the Republican party or Donald Trump himself is opposed to a corporate merger on public interest grounds, I am chuckling vociferously into your face right now. This is banana republic shit."
—Hamilton Nolan, Splinter News
"While there are plenty of good reasons to oppose AT&T's Time Warner takeover, punishing CNN for trying to hold this administration accountable isn't one of them," Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, said in a statement on Wednesday. "If today's news is just cover for an attack on CNN, it's only the latest example of how Trump is all too willing to abuse his power to intimidate the press. This is how leaders behave in dictatorships, not democracies."
The Financial Times was the first to report Wednesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) told AT&T it needs to drop Turner Broadcasting—CNN's parent company—if its $84.5 billion acquisition of Time Warner is to be approved. The DOJ also reportedly suggested that AT&T could sell off DirecTV, but one source told the Financial Times: "It's all about CNN."
On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump suggested that he did not approve of the AT&T-Time Warner merger on the grounds that it would place "too much concentration of power in the hands of too few"—echoing critiques of the merger leveled by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and other progressive lawmakers.
But many have argued that Trump was using populist rhetoric to obscure his "chilling" desire to suppress media outlets whose coverage he dislikes. In some instances, Trump hasn't even bothered with the populist language, as was the case when he suggested last month that NBC's license should be challenged.
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"If you think that the Republican Party or Donald Trump himself is opposed to a corporate merger on public interest grounds, I am chuckling vociferously into your face right now," writes Hamilton Nolan of Splinter News. "This is banana republic shit. Our child president hates CNN because he doesn't think they are nice to him, therefore he will use an $85 billion merger approval as a chance to even the score."
Recode's Peter Kafka echoed Nolan's argument, concluding that this is precisely "[w]hat would it look like if the president of the United States punished American businesses he didn't like, or news organizations that reported things he didn't like."
"The fact that Trump has explicitly assailed just about every major media enterprise except Fox News and Breitbart makes him a uniquely terrible messenger for a gospel concerned with free speech."
—Zach Carter and Paul Blumenthal, Huffington Post
As Common Dreams has reported, recent months have brought increased attention to concentration of corporate power in media and other sectors, particularly after a prominent monopoly critic was fired from an influential Washington think tank in August.
But as the Huffington Post's Zach Carter and Paul Blumenthal argue, Trump is "the worst possible messenger" for this growing revolt against corporate consolidation.
"The anti-monopoly movement in the United States is ascendent. Silicon Valley behemoths are targeting groups like the Open Markets Institute for a reason. But the fact that Trump has explicitly assailed just about every major media enterprise except Fox News and Breitbart makes him a uniquely terrible messenger for a gospel concerned with free speech," Carter and Blumenthal conclude. "The AT&T-Time Warner deal should die. Not, however, without some skepticism about the motivations behind its execution."