Why Blocking the AT&T-Time Warner Merger Might Be Right

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[Commentary] The prospect of a president using antitrust law to punish political opponents is deeply disturbing. So when news emerged this week that the Justice Department had said that Time Warner or AT&T would have to sell properties like CNN or DirecTV before the department would approve their merger, it was widely taken as Mr. Trump’s revenge against CNN, the news network he loves to hate. It seemed to fit a classic “dirty tricks” narrative.

But should we so quickly conclude that the Justice Department is doing something wrong? Maybe not.

The department seems right to worry about the idea of AT&T, the onetime telephone monopoly and the world’s largest telecom company, with annual revenue above $160 billion, taking over one of America’s most important media operations. The proposed deal should, if anything, be the focus of far more public debate. It is a merger rife not just with potential for broad anticompetitive effects but also serious conflicts of interest. That the Justice Department should seek divestitures would — absent the Trump effect — seem logical, commendable and a continuation of recent merger practice.

[Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School]


Why Blocking the AT&T-Time Warner Merger Might Be Right