Trump is clearing the regulatory decks for a proposed merger involving conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, while at the same time he's putting up merger hurdles for CNN.
In a stunning move that sweeps away decades of media ownership rules, Donald Trump’s FCC on Thursday voted along party lines to eliminate key caps on corporate media growth.
Those long-standing limits, designed to promote diversity and local programming, had barred media giants from owning more than two television stations in a top-four metropolitan market, and placed restrictions on owning newspapers and television stations in the same market.
Although the vote was expected, as Trump’s FCC’s chairman Ajit Pai was been vocal in his support for easing the rules, the final passage is nonetheless remarkable. Trump’s FCC clearly seems to be quickly approving radical changes in an effort to help a single, key Trump television ally: The Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“This agency is organizing all of its media policies around the interests of this one company,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the FCC, told NBC News.
Sinclair is the Trump-loving local television group that is trying to assemble a near-national network of stations that would deliver lots of news with a strident conservative aftertaste. Sinclair has made a $3.9 billion bid to acquire the Tribune Company.
If completed, the deal would put the company in control of 223 TV stations, a previously unheard of number of outlets for a single television broadcast company to own. Combined, the stations would give Sinclair access to more than 70 percent of American households.
The Sinclair deal is so expansive and so radical that even some key players within the conservative media have raised red flags. Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a close Trump ally, slammed the pending merger, insisting that the move “cannot be justified” and that it will “harm” American democracy.
Incredibly, at the same time Trump is helping one media empire expand, he seems to be actively thwarting another from doing the exact same thing, as communications giant AT&T stands poised to purchase media behemoth Time Warner for $86 billion. Based on previous large-scale merger agreements, the AT&T-Time Warner deal was seen as a sure thing, until Trump’s DOJ reportedly told AT&T that CNN and its parent company Turner Broadcasting could not be part of the deal.
In this case, Trump’s Department of Justice is going out of its way, and breaking decades of merger precedent, by claiming the deal poses a real danger to the media landscape.
“It’s all about CNN,” one source with knowledge of the deal told the Financial Times. If the Trump administration moves to the block the deal, AT&T is expected to sue.
Trump, of course, has spent much of this year relentlessly waging war on CNN, dismissing it as fake news and attacking its integrity. The merger move is widely seen as his attempt to penalize a White House opponent.
The contradictions here are as unambiguous as they are dangerous: Under Trump, federal regulators are willing re-write laws on the behalf of conservative-leaning news broadcasters (Sinclair), while at the same time regulators gladly erect barriers for news broadcasters seen as critical of the White House (CNN).
Trump is using the expansive legal powers of the federal government to reward business allies and punish perceived foes. There’s a name for that: authoritarianism.