CNN, a news channel President Trump has repeatedly maligned as “fake news,” was at the center of a high-level back-and-forth between AT&T and the Trump administration’s Department of Justice. AT&T hopes to buy Time Warner, the media giant that owns CNN, Turner Broadcasting, and other media outlets, for $85 billion.
But the deal requires DOJ approval, and reports that DOJ staff demanded the sale of CNN for that approval sent executives, politicians, and journalists into a frenzy. Democratic politicians derided what they saw as political interference in an agency review. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson combatted the reports by saying they’re false: “I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done is selling CNN,” he said.
Adding to the confusion, the DOJ came out and said that, actually, the sale of CNN was never included as a condition of the AT&T-Time Warner deal and that the agency rejected the idea. President Trump tried his best to do damage control by distancing himself from the agency review. “I didn’t make that decision [to ask AT&T to sell CNN or its parent company, Turner Broadcasting],” Trump said to reporters. “It was made by a man who’s a very respected person, a very, very respected person.”
There are additional rumors that the DOJ seeks divestiture of either CNN’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting, or DirecTV to resolve antitrust concerns. AT&T’s Randall Stephenson vowed to fight any divestiture requirements in court.
The AT&T-Time Warner deal remains under review at the Department of Justice.
Justice Department Says Not So Fast to AT&T’s Time Warner Bid (New York Times, Nov. 8, 2017)
AT&T to buy Time Warner for $85 billion (Speed Matters, Oct. 24, 2016)
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says the Department of Justice hasn’t asked him to sell CNN (Recode, Nov. 9, 2017)
Justice Department says it's not behind the push to force sale of CNN (Washington Examiner, Nov. 8, 2017)
Trump says he ‘didn’t make that decision’ to ask AT&T to sell off CNN’s parent company (Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2017)