Nov. 11--There are many fine reasons for the Department of Justice to act against the impending $85 billion merger of AT&T and Time Warner. It would further tighten corporate control of internet, cable and telecommunications at a time when less consolidation is needed to ensure diversity and access.
Instead, the Trump administration DOJ plans to use the merger as a weapon against one the president's least favorite news organizations -- Time Warner's CNN.
Monday, the DOJ advised the companies that it would not sign off on the merger unless they agree to divest the merged company of CNN, which the president regularly condemns as a supposed purveyor of what he calls "fake news."
A DOJ source quoted by Politico later claimed that AT&T and Time Warner itself had offered to shed CNN to diminish antitrust concerns about the merger. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson issued a statement that he "never offered to sell CNN" and has "no intention of doing so."
Rather than attempting to weaken CNN as a condition of the merger, the DOJ should move against it for the reasons cited by Trump himself while campaigning in Gettysburg in 2016. The deal, he said, would put "too much concentration of power in the hands of too few."
Indeed, the deal includes elements of horizontal and vertical integration, giving the merged entity huge influence over programming on one end, preferential access for in-house properties such as HBO, and vastly expanded its control over the means of delivering that programming on the other end.
Unfortunately, despite Trump's rhetoric on the stump, he has not held to that view as president. His FCC appointees, for example, have changed a rule that will allow deeply conservative Sinclair Broadcasting -- the new owner of WNEP-TV -- to reach up to 72 percent of U.S. households.
The DOJ should forget about CNN and reject the merger to prevent further consolidation of media power.
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