Consumer advocates concerned about monopoly power said Tuesday that while the Justice Department’s decision to block AT&T’s plans to take over Time Warner is the right one, President Donald Trump’s motives for objecting to the merger are questionable.
“Blocking this merger is the right thing to do—and we hope the Justice Department is doing it for the right reasons,” said Craig Aaron of Free Press in a statement. “This deal would give AT&T way too much power to undercut competitors and raise costs on TV viewers and internet users everywhere.”
The DOJ mounted a lawsuit on Monday to block AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner, the parent company of a number of cable channels including CNN, with which Trump has had a contentious relationship.
The deal would concentrate an unprecedented amount of news and entertainment production in the hands of the country’s largest telecommunications company, the possibility of which has led to bipartisan antitrust concerns.
Trump has complained about the news media’s coverage of allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, and has attacked the news outlets numerous times since entering office in January.
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He has also singled out CNN reporters as distributing “fake news.” Over the summer he tweeted a video of himself wrestling a man with a CNN logo over his head to the ground, and added the hashtags #FNN and #FraudNewsNetwork.
“It’s refreshing to see the Justice Department doing something about this deal,” said Aaron. “However, we remain very troubled by President Trump’s threats to punish outlets like CNN that have aired critical coverage of the administration. The Justice Department must demonstrate that Trump’s saber-rattling has nothing to do with this suit. It could start by giving the same level of scrutiny to other mega-deals like Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune.”
In the Washington Post, Matt Stoller also expressed cautious approval of the administration’s decision to block the deal.
“The fear President Trump might be using antitrust law to reward friends and punish enemies is valid and important,” wrote Stoller. “But the way to deal with White House meddling in antitrust is not to stop enforcing the law (in this case, the Clayton Act), especially at a time of increasingly extreme concentration of power, specifically in media. Instead, both the DOJ and Congress must take every step they can to demonstrate the absolute integrity of the antitrust enforcement process.”
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