A proposed $85 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner is apparently being held up by the Justice Department until the two companies sell off parts of their portfolios, Politico reported Wednesday.
The deal apparently hinges on Turner Broadcasting, The New York Times reported — and CNN specifically. Citing "people briefed on the matter," the Times said that the Justice Department wants Time Warner to sell off Turner Broadcasting, CNN's parent company, before it will approve the merger. Alternately, AT&T could sell off DirecTV for the sale to be approved, the Times reported.
The Wall Street Journal noted last week that vertical mergers like the one between Time Warner and AT&T rarely face legal challenges because of the difficulty of proving potential consumer harm. One anonymous source who spoke to CNN called the DOJ's alleged request for Time Warner to offload Turner Broadcasting a "fig leaf for threatening CNN."
When the deal for AT&T to buy Time Warner was announced last October, former FCC commissioner Michael Copps cautioned against its approval. "The sorry history of mega mergers shows they run roughshod over the public interest," Copps warned. During the final weeks of 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump said that if elected, his administration would block the proposed merger, which he called "concentration of power in the hands of the few."
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment to Politico. In July, The New York Times reported that White House advisers saw "a potential point of leverage over [CNN]" in the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. President Trump, meanwhile, has made a habit of calling CNN "fake news" and tweeted disparagingly about the news organization five times in the month of October alone.