Oppenheim: Blocking the Big Deal

Dec 1, 2017

I want to begin by saying I was a former employee of Time-Warner and I’m not a fan of big media mergers. While I personally had a good experience at CNN, big media has become so big, it’s just scary.

Think of it – a huge portion of the media you consume or the way media is delivered to you – is under the control of just a few companies: Comcast, Disney, News Corp. – and – Time Warner. They own many of the websites you read, produce the movies you watch, and own the networks that give you entertainment and information. It’s the government’s job to prevent any company from becoming too powerful and squashing competition.

Enter the anti-trust folks at the U.S. Justice Department. They’re saying the deal between AT&T and Time Warner could harm American consumers. And it’s true that the new company would be a colossus. This is an 85-billion dollar merger that would put things like CNN, HBO and Direct TV all under one roof. The merged company would be capable of producing and distributing content to millions with its wireless and satellite services.

But since when has consumer protection been a major theme in the Trump administration? Just look at the Federal Communications Commission, which is opposing net neutrality. That would make the playing field on the Internet wildly uneven – and give big companies like Verizon the power to favor content from Yahoo, which Verizon owns, over content from Google. Ending net neutrality is a pro-big business, anti-consumer move.

The not-so-secret suspicion is that Justice’s threat against the big merger is about something small by comparison – President Trump’s hate of CNN. He’s repeatedly condemned their coverage, and even retweeted a video showing him bashing a CNN-headed figure in a wrestling match.

The Justice Department has suggested the deal could go through if CNN were sold off in the deal, and a worst-case scenario is CNN, left on the auction block, could be swallowed up by Rupert Murdoch, conservative owner of Fox News. But this kind of pressure from the Trump administration suggests what’s really going on here - pure and simple - is meddling.

Look - I can appreciate valid criticism of this mega-merger. But I can’t see that the Justice Departments reasons for stopping this big deal have anything to do with justice… just small, petty politics.