I’ve previously noted the chatter that AT&T may have or may need to give President Trump assurances that CNN will be reined in before his Justice Department okays its $84.5 billion acquisition of Time Warner. The Financial Times has just reported (sub req) that the DOJ is now telling AT&T that it needs to sell CNN if it wants the acquisition approved.
From the FT …
The sale of CNN, which President Donald Trump has fiercely criticised as a broadcaster of “fake news”, is just one of the demands being made by the US antitrust authority in order to sign off on the deal, those involved in the talks said. But it could prove a stumbling block.
AT&T is opposed to selling the TV network and is preparing to take the Trump administration to court, arguing the deal with Time Warner does not pose any competition violations.
“It’s all about CNN,” said one person with direct knowledge of the talks between the company and the DOJ, adding that the regulator made it clear to AT&T that if it sold CNN the deal would go through.
Makan Delrahim is the new head of the AntiTrust division …
Makan Delrahim, the new head of the justice department’s antitrust division, has been more conciliatory, saying before taking office that he did not believe the merger posed a “major antitrust problem”.
“The sheer size of it, and the fact that it’s media, I think will get a lot of attention,” Mr Delrahim told a Canadian TV station in 2016 after the AT&T deal with Time Warner was announced. “However, I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem.”
People with direct knowledge of the antitrust negotiations said Mr Delrahim had changed his view since taking office.
As I’ve noted in other contexts, I believe that as a general matter antitrust enforcement should be much more expansive and aggressive than it’s been in recent decades. But that’s a separate point. The key here is selective enforcement to advance political ends. We don’t know that that is what’s happening here. But given the players involved we have good reason to be highly suspicious.