Days before the Thanksgiving holiday, the U.S. Department of Justice released its complaint against the proposed AT&T–Time Warner merger. The complaint is a history-making document. It announces a return to long-discarded approaches to antitrust, and argues that these old ways have regained relevance in the digital era.
The Justice Department’s arguments for this rediscovery are sophisticated and even compelling—so much so that they raise a retrospective question: If this big merger of content creators and content carriers is banned as anticompetitive, why was the previous big merger of Comcast and NBC Universal permitted? The issues raised by AT&T–Time Warner were also presented by Comcast–NBC. What has changed between then and now?
The morning after Thanksgiving, however, President Trump tweeted his latest and most outrageous attack yet on CNN, a unit of Time Warner.
.@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2017
These are ominous words. Inside the U.S., CNN’s reporting is protected by the First Amendment and the courts. Outside of the country, U.S.-affiliated journalists do ultimately depend on the protection of the U.S. government. Trump’s tweet is a direct attack on those international journalists’ freedom and even safety. Trump is inviting rogue regimes and other bad actors all over the world to harass CNN journalists—or worse. Trump’s words inspired this lament from General Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life. Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.— Gen Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) November 26, 2017
Trump’s animus against CNN raises a searching and troubling question. What if the Department of Justice is doing the right thing for the wrong reason? Or what if the president’s personal determination to silence a crucial media institution—or, worse, to force its sale to an ally like Rupert Murdoch—explains the sudden pivot in the department’s antitrust philosophy?