Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, said this week’s slowdown of the company’s acquisition of Time Warner is based on a “patently false” notion that he would move to sell CNN in order to appease regulators.
“Everybody is sitting on pins and needles,” he told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times Dealbook Conference in New York. “It’s painful situation that needs to be addressed.”
He stressed that no government figure, either inside DOJ or, has been suggested, the White House official given President Trump’s scorn for CNN, has put pressure on him to sell. “I have no reason to believe” the Trump theory, he said.
“A lot of people have expressed interest in buying CNN,” he said. He added, “I have never offered to sell it.”
Stephenson said he had his first meeting with Makan Delrahim, who head’s the DOJ’s antitrust division, on Monday. He described the meeting as productive and pleasant, and said both AT&T and Time Warner execs were “a little disturbed yesterday” when reports surfaced that DOJ had made demands.
“One of the key benefits of putting these companies together is to stand up a new advertising capability,” he said. “Selling CNN makes no sense if that’s the business you’re trying to build.” In fact, “it borders on comical” to suggest that the architects of a vertical deal aimed at increasing scale would voluntarily reduce that scale, he added.
“I miss the old horizontal mergers,” Stephenson said with a rueful grin. “They seem so easy.”