Nets Fear Political Conspiracy in DOJ Blocking Media Merger

On Tuesday, all three network morning shows fretted over the Justice Department filing a lawsuit to block a planned merger between telecommunications giants AT&T and Time Warner. Hosts and correspondents warned of “politics” being “at play” in the decision and touted how critics were “raising concerns about the motive behind the government’s legal challenge.”

“On Monday, the Department of Justice sued to block AT&T’s high-profile $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, which would have created a media giant. But many are asking if politics perhaps was at play in this decision,” co-host Savannah Guthrie proclaimed on NBC’s Today.

 

 

Fellow co-host Matt Lauer skeptically asked business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle: “So you would have to imagine that the Department of Justice wouldn’t just frivolously file a suit like this. So what is the strength of their case?” Even after acknowledging “you would look at all deals like this,” Ruhle still had her suspicions: “But, this administration has been pretty clear, they’re all about deregulation. So it’s sort of strange to say, ‘Hold on, this deal, we want to take a closer look.’”

She then pushed the theory that the President’s criticism of Time Warner-owned CNN was behind the move:

And remember, President Trump has made it very clear, he doesn’t like CNN. The Department of Justice visited AT&T in early November and they suggested divest CNN, Turner Classics, TBS. And that’s raised questions, is President Trump getting in the mix here? Now Department of Justice says he isn’t, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she’s not aware of it. There’s a lot of eyeballs on this.

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Earlier in the discussion, Ruhle downplayed any antitrust concerns about the mega-merger: “AT&T and Time Warner, they don’t do the same thing....But what AT&T and Time Warner would be, a massive conglomerate, kind of like an NBC-Comcast.”

The NBC journalists conveniently failed to mention that the last company that attempted to purchase Time Warner Cable was their parent company, Comcast. In 2014, the news network actually pushed that proposed merger with several positive reports on the business plan. Ultimately the deal collapsed when the Obama Justice Department came out in opposition to it on the same antitrust grounds now being cited by the Trump administration.

Apparently everyone at NBC came down with a case of memory loss on Tuesday as they skipped over that important background information.

On ABC’s Good Morning America, co-host Michael Strahan worried: “Now to the $85 billion showdown between the Trump administration and AT&T. The Justice Department has sued to block the company’s bid to take over Time Warner....why is the Justice Department fighting this deal?”

After explaining that “the DOJ says that they’re blocking this deal because it would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer options for consumers,” correspondent Rebecca Jarvis predictably brought in the politics:

Many in the U.S. have publicly spoken out against the deal, including President Trump, who was rallying against it on the campaign trail....Now, the DOJ has denied any political influence and their suit barely mentions CNN. But AT&T’s CEO hinted that he’s not so sure.

After the report, co-host Robin Roberts observed: “It does seem like there was some influence there.” Fellow co-host George Stephanopoulos chimed in: “Well, and that’ll be a big part of the trial. If this goes to case [sic] they’re going to try to discover whether there was any contact between the White House and the Justice Department.” Jarvis agreed: “Because they’re not supposed to have any say in this.”

“The Justice Department is suing to block AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner, the owner of CNN,” co-host Norah O’Donnell announced on CBS This Morning. Soundbites immediately ran of Trump labeling CNN “fake news,” followed by O’Donnell warning: “President Trump’s frequent criticism of CNN is raising concerns about the motive behind the government’s legal challenge.”

Correspondent Julianna Goldman bolstered the argument: “Now, during the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump said that he would oppose the deal because it would concentrate too much power in the hands of too few.”

In the Trump era, even routine government oversight – something the liberal media usually champion – is portrayed as a scandal.

Here are transcripts of the November 21 coverage on all three networks:

Today
7:13 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Now to some big business here at home. On Monday, the Department of Justice sued to block AT&T’s high-profile $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, which would have created a media giant. But many are asking if politics perhaps was at play in this decision. Here to walk us through it is NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, who covers business for us. Steph, good morning.

MATT LAUER: Hey, Steph.

STEPHANIE RUHLE: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Battle Over Blocked Mega-Merger; U.S. Sues to Block AT&T-Time Warner Deal]

GUTHRIE: So first of all, explain the rationale here for the Department of Justice to come in and say this merger can’t go forward.

RUHLE: So from the Department of Justice’s perspective, they’re saying this is bad for the consumer, this could cause higher bills, and you don’t want to have a company so big that it knocks out the competition so new innovative businesses can’t get in the mix. But where they might be wrong here is, AT&T and Time Warner, they don’t do the same thing. If they were in the same business, if it was AT&T and T-Mobile, well then, if there’s only one, they could charge you a whole lot more. But what AT&T and Time Warner would be, a massive conglomerate, kind of like an NBC-Comcast.

LAUER: So you would have to imagine that the Department of Justice wouldn’t just frivolously file a suit like this. So what is the strength of their case? And what’s the likelihood that in the end this will go through anyway?

RUHLE: Well, listen, it is a mega-merger, you would look at all deals like this. But, this administration has been pretty clear, they’re all about deregulation. So it’s sort of strange to say, “Hold on, this deal, we want to take a closer look.” And remember, President Trump has made it very clear, he doesn’t like CNN. The Department of Justice visited AT&T in early November and they suggested divest CNN, Turner Classics, TBS. And that’s raised questions, is President Trump getting in the mix here? Now Department of Justice says he isn’t, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she’s not aware of it. There’s a lot of eyeballs on this.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Stephanie, let us know how it develops. Thank you.


Good Morning America
7:15 AM ET

MICHAEL STRAHAN: Now to the $85 billion showdown between the Trump administration and AT&T. The Justice Department has sued to block the company’s bid to take over Time Warner. And Rebecca Jarvis is here. And Rebecca, why is the Justice Department fighting this deal?

REBECCA JARVIS: Good morning, happy birthday, Michael. Well, the DOJ says that they’re blocking this deal because it would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer options for consumers. They say the combination of AT&T – which owns satellite service DirecTV, the nation’s largest distributor of traditional subscription television – with Time Warner, which owns networks like TBS, HBO, and CNN, could make rivals less competitive.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: New Battle Over Major Media Merger; Justice Dept. Sues to Block AT&T & Time Warner Deal]

But what’s surprising about the DOJ blocking this merger is that historically deals like this, where the companies are complimentary but they don’t overlap, get approved. Many in the U.S. have publicly spoken out against the deal, including President Trump, who was rallying against it on the campaign trail.

DONALD TRUMP: AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.

JARVIS: Now, the DOJ has denied any political influence and their suit barely mentions CNN. But AT&T’s CEO hinted that he’s not so sure. He insisted that his company would not part with CNN to secure approval for the deal. Any agreement forfeiting CNN directly or non-directly is a nonstarter, he said.

STRAHAN: The CEO, he’s not backing down. He said really he’s willing to sue.

JARVIS: They expect to win, he is ready to sue.

STRAHAN: Alright, we’ll keep our eye on that, yeah.

ROBIN ROBERTS: It does seem like there was some influence there.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and that’ll be a big part of the trial.

JARVIS: Absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If this goes to case [sic] they’re going to try to discover whether there was any contact between the White House and the Justice Department.

JARVIS: Because they’re not supposed to have any say in this.

ROBERTS: Alright, Rebecca, thank you.


CBS This Morning
7:14 AM ET

NORAH O’DONNELL: The Justice Department is suing to block AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner, the owner of CNN.

DONALD TRUMP: You are fake news. I like real news, not fake news. You’re fake news.  

O’DONNELL: President Trump’s frequent criticism of CNN is raising concerns about the motive behind the government’s legal challenge. Julianna Goldman is at the Justice Department. Julianna, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Major Antitrust Battle; DOJ Sues to Block AT&T’s $85B Deal to Acquire Time Warner]

JULIANNA GOLDMAN: Good morning, the Justice Department says the merger would harm competition, increase prices for consumers, and result in less innovation. DOJ also says that the “newly combined firm” would be able to charge rival cable distributors “hundreds of millions of dollars more per year” for Time Warner’s programming. Those costs would be passed down to the consumer.

But AT&T has argued the merger would allow them to deliver cheaper programming over the internet, rather than in expensive cable bundle packages. And they say that this deal is considered what’s called a vertical merger, meaning it’s between two companies in the same industry who don’t directly compete.

Now, during the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump said that he would oppose the deal because it would concentrate too much power in the hands of too few. But at a press conference yesterday, on Monday, AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson said he didn’t know if the lawsuit was all about CNN. But Gayle, he did say that selling the network was a nonstarter.

GAYLE KING: Alright, thank you very much, Julianna.


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CyberAlerts Business Coverage Conservatives & Republicans Media Business ABC Good Morning America CBS CBS This Morning NBC Today CNN Video Rebecca Jarvis Stephanie Ruhle Julianna Goldman