President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is still upset with CNN.
As the Wall Street Journal reported last night, Kushner met earlier this year with Gary Ginsberg, a top executive at Time Warner, CNN’s parent company. In the meeting, Kushner told Ginsberg CNN should fire 20 percent of its staff because of its coverage of the 2016 presidential election.
A White House official told the Wall Street Journal that Kushner’s remark wasn’t serious, and that he “was simply trying to make a point.” The White House didn’t immediately return Vox’s request for comment about the meeting.
It seems like the Trump administration’s feud with CNN isn’t going away. When Kushner took more control of his father-in-law’s presidential campaign last summer, he started complaining to CNN executives about its Trump coverage. He was particularly angry after CNN fact-checked a speech Trump gave on June 22 and threatened to keep campaign members from appearing on the network.
Since then, Trump’s anger toward CNN has only grown. Trump continues to label the media organization as “fake news,” and he famously tweeted a doctored video of him wrestling a CNN avatar. In August, he shared — and then deleted — a cartoon picture of a “Trump Train” running over a person meant to represent CNN.
That the White House is openly attacking CNN — and the wider media — is already troubling. But Trumpworld’s antagonism toward CNN may actually lead the administration to deny a pending media merger that involves the network.
Trump may block a big deal because he hates CNN
On October 22, 2016, AT&T announced its intention to acquire Time Warner — a media company that houses premium TV channel HBO, film studio Warner Bros., and networks like CNN — for $85.4 billion.
Because the merger is so large, the government must review it for antitrust reasons. But Trump already said he wouldn’t sign off on the merger last year. "As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," Trump said. And on Wednesday, news broke that the administration was looking to block the deal.
It’s unclear whether the administration wants to stop the merger because of its animus toward CNN or because Trump promised a populist presidency that would be an antitrust enforcer. The Wall Street Journal notes that the administration claims politics aren’t factoring in to the government’s review of the merger, and AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said Thursday he doesn’t believe politics is an issue.
But as my colleague Matthew Yglesias wrote on Wednesday, it’s hard to know with Trump:
We have a president who lies constantly, who disregards the norms of American government, who’s openly disdainful of the social function of a free press, and who’s set up his administration in a way that seems to generally sideline expertise while opening the door to massive financial conflicts of interest. Under those circumstances, any actions he takes naturally fall under a pall of suspicion, and it’s easy for companies who are adversely impacted by his administration’s regulatory decisions to raise questions about them.
So even if Kushner’s remark was just a joke, it’s no laughing matter.