On June 9, before heading to Singapore after the G7 Summit in Quebec, President Trump held a press conference. He has been keeping a wildly busy schedule.

Trump never has made a secret of his dislike for CNN. Here’s a part of that pre-Singapore press conference:

REPORTER: As you were heading into these G7 talks, there was a sense that America’s closest allies were frustrated with you and angry with you, and that you were angry with them and that you were leaving here early to go meet for more friendlier talks with Kim Jong Un in Singapore. And I’m wondering if you …

THE PRESIDENT: It’s well put, I think.

REPORTER: — if you view it the same way. And do you view the U.S. alliance system shifting under your presidency, away …

THE PRESIDENT: Who are you with, out of curiosity?

THE PRESIDENT: I figured. Fake News CNN. The worst. But I could tell by the question. I had no idea you were CNN. After the question, I was just curious as to who you were with. You were CNN.

President Trump then responded to the reporter’s question by saying: “I would say that the level of relationship is a 10. We have a great relationship. Angela and Emmanuel and Justin. I would say the relationship is a 10.”

Of course, this begs the question, 10 on a scale of what? But leaving that question alone, let’s focus on Trump’s uneasy relationship with CNN. In part, his dislike of CNN has put him, in my opinion, on the right side of an important issue: AT&T’s bid to purchase Time Warner.

Time Warner owns CNN, or Fake News CNN, if you prefer the president’s longer title for the Cable News Network, which Ted Turner founded in 1980 to provide news coverage 24 hours a day. CNN had branched out somewhat, for example, with the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” show.

Back on Oct. 22, AT&T had announced to the world its desire to purchase Time Warner. That announcement was followed by this response from then-candidate for president Trump at a rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: “As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, 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,” he said.

“…it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few”: That’s a phrase worth repeating.

After he was elected president, Trump followed through on opposing AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. On Nov. 8, exactly one year after Trump’s electoral victory, The New York Times reported: “Until last week, AT&T’s pending $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner seemed destined to close by the end of the year. … Now it seems possible that the Justice Department and AT&T will end up battling each other in court.”

Yes, that’s exactly what happened. The Justice Department opposed AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition.

An $85.4 billion deal! How much is that, really? It’s a figure that’s a little hard to comprehend. The universe is approximately 14 billion years old, astronomers say. So 85.4 billion is over six times the estimated age of the universe.

Granted, to say the acquisition figure is six times the age of the universe is maybe a too-mixed metaphor, but suffice it to say that the acquisition amount alone adds credence to President Trump’s contention of “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

On this Tuesday, June 12, a federal judge made a decision that potentially will have a major impact on the media landscape: Richard Leon, a federal trial judge for the District of Columbia, ruled in favor of AT&T.

He began his decision by saying, “If there ever were an antitrust case where the parties had a dramatically different assessment of the current state of the relevant market and a fundamentally different vision of its future development, this is the one. Small wonder it had to go to trial!”



About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.


The judge ruled against the Justice Department’s claim that the huge merger would so reduce competition and harm consumers that it violated antitrust law. Not so, said AT&T and Time Warner, who argued they needed to merge in order to compete with heavy-hitter content providers such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Hulu and Netflix.

Judge Leon attached no conditions on the proposed merger, such as AT&T perhaps having to sell off CNN as a part of the merger deal.

In 2011, the Obama administration approved Comcast acquiring NBC Universal, but that deal did come with some conditions attached by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice. Notably, Comcast had to agree that it wouldn’t withhold its content from other streaming services.

The AT&T-Time Warner merger battle probably isn’t over. The Justice Department, of course, can appeal.

Perhaps President Trump’s opposition to the merger is based in large part on his visceral hatred of CNN. Frankly, I don’t care. His instincts in this case, no matter what is prompting them, are correct. Concentration of the media in too few hands is a scary fact of U.S. life.

Still pending is a $3.9 billion Sinclair Broadcast Company-Tribune Media Company deal. That may sound like small potatoes compared to an $85.4 billion deal, but the merger potentially could mean that Sinclair would be broadcasting to 72 percent of American households. The Justice Department has locked horns with Sinclair over this, and the battle centers on how many TV stations Sinclair would have to sell off in order to satisfy the Justice Department’s antitrust concerns.

Of course, if Sinclair takes its case to court, it might get a favorable ruling like AT&T just did.

Where’s the voice for the little guy or gal who’s scared of media concentration? In the AT&T case, it would be The Donald. Maybe he’s got bad motives. No, he doesn’t like “Fake News CNN.” Maybe he wants to punish CNN. But sometimes bad motives can lead to good results.

The Justice Department is fighting a noble war when the issue is antitrust and media consolidation, and regardless of his motives, Donald Trump arguably is, too.

Sandy Davidson, Ph.D., J.D., teaches communications law at the Missouri School of Journalism. She is a Curator’s Distinguished Teaching Professor and the attorney for the Columbia Missourian.

His instincts in this case, no matter what is prompting them, are correct. Concentration of the media in too few hands is a scary fact of U.S. life.





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