8 antitrust experts on what Trump’s war on CNN means for the AT&T–Time Warner merger

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While many agree the government does have a legitimate antitrust case against the megamerger between AT&T and Time Warner — the combined, vertically integrated company could potentially freeze out competitors, withhold or increase the price of premium content, and in turn harm consumers — President Donald Trump's ongoing public battle with Time Warner’s CNN has cast a heavy political shadow over the deal and the government’s objection to it. I reached out to eight experts on antitrust matters and megamergers to find out whether they think Trump’s public comments, specifically when it comes to CNN, might impact the Department of Justice’s case if and when its lawsuit heads to court.

Matt Stoller, fellow, Open Markets Institute: It’s unlikely. There are two separate questions here. One, does this merger challenge have merit? Clearly, there's a case here. Vertical mergers sometimes cause conflicts of interest, and that's not new or partisan. For example, the Comcast-NBC deal was affixed with behavioral remedies by the Obama DOJ because the DOJ saw conflicts of interest in that merger. They just chose a different remedy approach. Two, how do we prevent an administration from exercising inappropriate influence over the antitrust division?We have two ways of doing that. The first and most important is the courts. This merger isn't blocked by the DOJ, it's challenged by the DOJ. The courts have the final say. So this isn't up to Trump. AT&T will have ample ability to make its case. The company may ask for a special process to see if there is meddling from the White House, and the judge should consider granting it. There could also be congressional hearings, which would be useful as well. If evidence comes to light on political interference, Congress needs to act aggressively.I would also add that as frightening as Trump is, the increasing concentration and control over our communications environment by corporate actors is equally disturbing.


8 antitrust experts on what Trump’s war on CNN means for the AT&T–Time Warner merger