With intrigue swirling about his dogged quest to block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner, Department of Justice antitrust chief Makan Delrahim is defending regulators’ speedy approval of Disney’s bid to buy 21st Century Fox assets.
In an op-ed piece in the Washington Times published as his division was filing a notice of appeal in the U.S. v. AT&T on Thursday, Delrahim called the Disney-Fox deal “a victory for American consumers.” Unlike the case of AT&T and Time Warner, it “should be heralded as an example of merger parties working effectively with division investigators to resolve antitrust concerns,” the official wrote.
The DOJ announced a settlement with Disney last month under which it granted approval of the $71.3 billion transaction, provided that the company agreed to divest Fox’s 22 regional sports networks. That green light gave Disney a distinct advantage in its battle with Comcast, which had been bidding up the assets.
Many Wall Street analysts said the AT&T appeal would further doom the prospects of Comcast staying in the Fox hunt. The company has not clarified its intentions, though it remains a contender for European pay-TV giant Sky. More than three weeks have passed since Disney’s last offer for Fox, which is the one the DOJ has approved.
Delrahim took to the Times, a longtime right-wing editorial mainstay, in response to a New York Times editorial on July 1, which called the DOJ’s differing approaches to the two merger reviews “mystifying.” The NYT piece asserted that President Donald Trump had orchestrated Delrahim’s moves in order to favor Trump’s friend, Rupert Murdoch, while hindering the parent company of his longtime foe, CNN.
“This view relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of merger review and mischaracterizes the recent AT&T-Time Warner and Disney-Fox enforcement actions,” countered Delrahim. He added, “While the Times suggests that deals of this size usually require a year for antitrust review, it ignores that each merger poses unique facts requiring unique market analysis. The pace of any review is largely in the hands of the merging parties.”
Disney’s congenial dealings with regulators offer a model for any company presenting a transaction to the DOJ, Delrahim argues. “Such successful results should be praised rather than politicized by the Times editorial board,” he wrote. “Such politicization does a serious disservice to the American public.”