As noted last week, the Department of Justice has dropped its fight to prevent the AT&T/Time Warner merger. Related to that fight with the Department of Justice, The New Yorker published a fascinating piece today that details the deep connections between the Trump White House and Fox News. Among some of the more explosive revelations: Fox News knew about the Stormy Daniels payoff days before the election but killed the story; and Roger Ailes gave Trump the debate questions before the first GOP primary debate — which is rich since Trump screamed about Hillary receiving the debate questions early.
But perhaps the most damning stories in the piece is how the Department of Justice treated some media mergers very differently depending on how much they might benefit Rupert Murdoch and Fox News:
Telecommunications is a highly regulated industry, and under Trump the government has consistently furthered Murdoch’s business interests, to the detriment of his rivals. Hundt, the former F.C.C. chairman, told me that “there have been three moves that have taken place in the regulatory and antitrust world” involving telecommunications “that are extremely unusual, and the only way to explain them is that they’re pro-Fox, pro-Fox, and pro-Fox.”
Last June, after only six months of deliberation, the Trump Administration approved Fox’s bid to sell most of its entertainment assets to Disney, for seventy-one billion dollars. The Murdoch family will receive more than two billion dollars in the deal, and will become a major stockholder in the combined company. The Justice Department expressed no serious antitrust concerns, even though the combined company will reportedly account for half the box-office revenue in America. Trump publicly congratulated Murdoch even before the Justice Department signed off on the deal, and claimed that it would create jobs. In fact, the consolidation is projected to result in thousands of layoffs.
In July, the F.C.C. blocked Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative rival to Fox, from combining with the Tribune Media Company. The F.C.C. argued that the deal would violate limits on the number of TV stations one entity can own, upending Sinclair’s hope of becoming the next Fox.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, went to court in an effort to stop A. T. & T.’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN. Time Warner saw the deal as essential to its survival at a time when the media business is increasingly dominated by giant competitors such as Google and Facebook. Murdoch understood this impulse: in 2014, 21st Century Fox had tried, unsuccessfully, to buy Time Warner. For him, opposing his rivals’ deal was a matter of shrewd business. Trump also opposed the deal, but many people suspected that his objection was a matter of petty retaliation against CNN. Although Presidents have traditionally avoided expressing opinions about legal matters pending before the judicial branch, Trump has bluntly criticized the plan. The day after the Justice Department filed suit to stop it, he declared the proposed merger “not good for the country.” Trump also claimed that he was “not going to get involved,” and the Justice Department has repeatedly assured the public that he hasn’t done so.
However, in the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”
Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”
A spokesperson for Cohn declined to comment, and Kelly did not respond to inquiries from The New Yorker, but a former White House official confirmed that Trump often “vented” in “frustration” about wanting to block the A. T. & T.-Time Warner merger. “The President does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy,” the former official says. “But he wanted to bring down the hammer.” (Last month, a federal court ruled against the Justice Department.)
Nothing about this is surprising, of course. Trump has been screaming about the AT&T/Time Warner merger since before he came into office as a means of revenge against CNN — going so far as to suggest that the merger could go through only on the condition that CNN be sold by Time Warner. But just because it is unsurprising does not make it any less appalling that the President of the United States attempted to use the Department of Justice (and the Post Office in the case of The Washington Post) to eke out revenge against a media company he considers an enemy. This is classic abuse of power and I hope the Democrats are preparing some hearings.
A side note about this amazing bit of reporting from The New Yorker: the author of the piece, Jane Mayer, has a very personal connection to Fox News. Back in the 90s, she came home from a work trip to discover that the man she was living with left her for Laura Fucking Ingraham, and the couple was refusing to give Mayer her dog back. So one day, she and Jill Abramson drove over to the couple’s house, and Mayer crawled through the dog door to retrieve it. GOOD FOR HER. Later, the guy also left Ingraham, and she reportedly flooded the house with a garden hose stuck through a mail slot. He sounds like a winner.
Speaking of Fox News, former White House aide and lunchbox head Sebastian Gorka is out at the network. And right-wing lunatic Laura Loomer was banned from CPAC after harassing a CNN reporter.
But back to that Time Warner/AT&T merger: now that it can go forward, there have been some big changes in the corporate offices. The biggest news is that HBO’s chairman and CEO, Richard Pleper, is stepping down, as is the president of Turner Media, David Levy. With the merger, HBO, TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network are going to be merged into one big WarnerMedia group, and former NBC head, Bob Greenblatt has been named the Chairman. Pleper had previously resisted the push for more HBO content — concerned that an increase in volume of the material would have an impact on quality — but the new CEO of WarnerMedia, John Stankey, had other ideas. While some caution that Pleper didn’t invent the HBO culture and therefore his departure shouldn’t have that big of an impact, it still marks the end of an era.
While we’re on the topic of HBO: Entertainment Weekly has done another big piece about Game of Thrones and that battle scene we keep hearing about. SPOILER ALERT: Everyone was miserable filming it.
This video discusses the use of “Song” in “A Song of Ice and Fire” and the tension between history and mythology within Game of Thrones. It’s great:
Steven Spielberg is SO MAD about Netflix winning Oscars and wants this nonsense to STOP IMMEDIATELY. He’s on the losing side of this battle, I’m afraid.
Y’all, True Detective season three was obviously not a dream Hays was having while in Vietnam. Y’all are way overthinking this.
Oh, Peter Thomas. Bad checks? Really?
Leaving Neverland, Part 1 aired last night, and it was harrowing. I had read a ton of things about it, and yet somehow I was still not prepared for just how graphic the details would be. However, die-hard Jackson fans were not convinced and flooded social media with skeptical posts, pointing out that the two men featured in the documentary, Robson and Safechuck, testified in Jackson’s defense and that Jackson was acquitted in a criminal trail. That is accurate, but these 10 facts about Jackson — including the fact that one young accuser accurately described Jackson’s genitalia — are also accurate.
Johnny Depp is suing his ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million because he’s a bad person.
Ryan Adams canceled his UK tour. What a shame.
How soaps have tackled “important issues” this year. Interestingly, General Hospital seems to be the only one to do a #MeToo storyline despite it being a made-to-order plot for soaps.
- Call the Midwife has been renewed for two more seasons at BBC.
- Endeavour has been renewed for a seventh season by ITV.
- The Tortilla Curtain is being turned into a series by the creators of Big Love.
- Seth Rogen will appear in The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access.
- E.J. Bonilla will star in the ABC pilot Until the Wedding.
- Fernanda Andrade and Aaron Moten are joining the Fox pilot neXt.
- Freddie Stroma and Hayley Magnus have been cast in the NBC comedy pilot Like Magic.
- Chloe Wepper, David Alpay, and Brooke Smith have been added to the cast of NBC’s pilot Prism.
- Emma Roberts will star in the Netflix film Holidate.
- Lauren Lapkus, Geoff Pierson, Sarah Chalke, and Molly Sims are joining the Netflix movie The Wrong Missy.
- Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Peter Mullan, Lily Newmark, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Daniel Sharman, Sebastian Armesto, Emily Coates, Catherine Walker, and Billy Jenkins are joining the cast of the Netflix series, Cursed.
- Jes Macallan will be a series regular on Arrow.
- Robin Strasser is joining Days of Our Lives.
Mark Your Calendar
- Queer Eye returns on Netflix on March 15.
- What We Do in the Shadows debuts on FX on March 27.
- Legendary Locations returns on Travel Channel on April 2.
- Einstein and Hawking: Unlocking the Universe will air on the Science Channel on March 10.
- Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh Ben Yahweh will debut on Oxygen on March 10.
Janice Freeman, The Voice contestant from season 13
Nathaniel Taylor, Actor known for his role on Sanford and Sons
Andrew Berends, Documentary filmmaker and cameraman on Free Solo
Ted Lindsay, NHL Hall of Famer
Keith Flint, Lead singer of The Prodigy
The Bachelor: COMMENCE FENCE JUMPING. 7 p.m., ABC
Leaving Neverland: Part Two: The conclusion of the documentary about the two men who accuse Michael Jackson of raping them as children. 7 p.m., HBO
After Neverland: Oprah Winfrey interviews the two men who are the subjects of Leaving Neverland. 9 p.m., HBO & OWN
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Julianne Moore, Thomas Lennon, Bebe Rexha
- The Late Late Show with James Corden: Nick, Joe & Kevin Jonas, Lior Suchard
- Jimmy Kimmel Live: Brie Larson, Ben McKenzie, Tierra Whack
- Busy Tonight: America Ferrera
- Conan: Deon Cole
- Watch What Happens Live: Stassi Schroeder, Katie Maloney-Schwartz
|The Good Doctor
|Man with a Plan
|The Enemy Within