President Donald Trump confidant Rupert Murdoch contacted AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson twice in the last six months to ask about a sale of CNN, sources told Bloomberg on Friday, raising more concerns that federal pressure concerning a merger involving CNN’s parent company could be politically motivated.
It’s not clear if the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox was interested in purchasing CNN or if Murdoch was simply gathering information. One source said he offered to purchase the network in both phone calls, while another said Fox has no interest in acquiring CNN, according to Bloomberg and Reuters, which first reported the calls.
CNN has come under the microscope of the Justice Department’s new antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, who warned that either CNN’s parent, Turner Broadcasting, or DirecTV would have to be sold before the federal government would allow a planned $85.4 billion merger between Time Warner and AT&T. Stephenson has said he has no interest in selling CNN.
A Murdoch purchase of the network could threaten to quiet a voice that has been critical of the Trump administration. The president has consistently accused CNN of being “fake news.” Meanwhile, the Murdoch-owned Fox News network has steadfastly offered sympathetic coverage of the Trump White House.
Earlier this year, Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Time Warner executive Gary Ginsberg and said that 20 percent of the CNN staff should be fired because they were so “wrong” about the Trump campaign, sources told The Wall Street Journal. A White House official said the comments were not intended to be taken seriously, but they rattled Time Warner, the Journal reported Friday.
The merger would consolidate tremendous power in two united behemoth communication companies. But critics fear that the federal government may be using its power not to battle a monopoly but to hurt CNN.