Speaking today at the Economic Club of New York, AT&T chief Randall Stephenson said the company is “prepared to make concessions” to the government in order to win approval of its long-gestating acquisition of Time Warner.
One major no-fly zone, however, remains CNN, Stephenson warned. (See full video below.)
“We’re going to do nothing that would lend credence to an idea that we’re actually making concessions to address somebody’s concerns with CNN,” Stephenson said. “We’re not going to do that,” he added. “That begins to have hints of First Amendment issues.” While he stopped short of saying President Donald Trump was directing Delrahim to oppose the deal, as many observers believe, he tip-toed pretty close to that line. “One can understand why people would raise the question, given the timeline” of when regulators’ objections to the deal began.
The news network has emerged as a sticking point with the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed a lawsuit to block the deal, insisting it would be anti-competitive and anti-consumer. If AT&T would agree to cut CNN loose from the portfolio, regulators have privately suggested, it would enable the $85 billion deal to earn the DOJ’s OK. That ask, coming at the 11th hour of a review process widely predicted to be resolved in the companies’ favor, raised questions about whether Trump was throwing a wrench in the works because of his longstanding anger at CNN. (Makan Delrahim, head of the DOJ’s antitrust division, denies reports of presidential interference.)
Stephenson marveled about the twist the saga has taken. “To suddenly wake up on a merger that is less complicated than one that was already approved, NBC-Comcast, one that is less complicated and has less market power issues,” he said, “and to go from very targeted structural remedies to a meat-ax approach of just blocking the thing, just strikes at the heart of rule of law.”
Here is the full video of Stephenson’s appearance (beginning at the 6:30 mark):