President Donald Trump’s escalating antagonism for CNN is casting a shadow over a proposed merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T.
AT&T reached an agreement to acquire Time Warner for more than $85 billion in October, and the deal — which requires approval from the Justice Department — is expected to go through. CNBC reported Thursday that the deal could close within 60 days, but there have been suggestions Trump’s continuing feud with the cable news channel could stand in the way of approval.
An article published in the New York Times on Wednesday raised concerns, thanks to comments from an unnamed senior administration official who suggested CNN might become a bargaining chip in the pending merger:
White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president’s animus toward CNN remains a wild card.
It’s unclear what that would mean in practice, but some journalists pounced on the line, saying it implied a possible abuse of power. Others suggested that the sentiment was mostly bluster.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Justice responded to Mic’s request for comment.
Trump expressed reservations about the proposed Time Warner-AT&T deal during the 2016 presidential campaign, citing concerns the merger would consolidate too much power in the media industry. Bloomberg reported in January that Trump had informed a friend he thought the pending merger was “a bad deal.”
But Trump’s escalating war with CNN will make it hard to separate the future of the deal — whether it’s approved, denied or postponed for further review — from Trump’s personal animosity for the channel.
Trump’s disdain for CNN has been well-documented since the beginning of his campaign, and it looked like it had reached a head in January when Trump called a CNN reporter “fake news” following an allusion the channel made to a secret and largely unverified dossier about Trump that was being referenced in security briefings.
But the feud has heated up considerably since then, following an embarrassing retraction that led to the resignation of three CNN employees and the release of a series of undercover videos by Project Veritas that was used to suggest CNN’s reporting on Russia has been disingenuous.
Over the weekend, the controversy reached new heights when Trump retweeted a GIF that showed him at a pro-wrestling competition body-slamming and then punching a person with the CNN logo superimposed over the person’s face. In response, the network said its reporters would keep doing their jobs and that Trump “should start doing his.”
Trump has also been antagonistic toward CNN president Jeff Zucker, with whom he has a long and contentious history. Trump, who worked with Zucker during his Apprentice days at NBC, has gone after Zucker by name several times to suggest he should not run the cable channel. He suggested at a private fundraiser in June that Zucker would soon resign.
Right-wing media has also gone after Zucker as part of an onslaught of criticism. On Thursday, the conservative news site The Daily Caller wrote that Trump would not approve the merger if Zucker remained president of the network.