Some Trump-CNN watershed moments:
- January 2017: In a pre-inaugural news conference, President-elect Donald Trump calls CNN “fake news” and declines to take a question from correspondent Jim Acosta;
- February 2017: President Trump jousts with Acosta in a memorable news conference;
- July 2017: President Trump promotes a video of him beating up “CNN.”
- November 2017: President Trump denounces CNN International as “(Fake) news."
- December 2017: Acosta reports that then-press secretary Sarah Sanders issued an access threat at a White House event.
- July 2018: CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins is barred from a White House event.
- November 2018: White House yanks Acosta’s press pass, then quickly loses in a federal court showdown. Press pass restored.
- March 2019: The New Yorker reports that Trump in 2017 had pressed aides to trigger a Justice Department lawsuit to block AT&T’s planned $85 billion purchase of Time Warner, the corporate home of CNN. The Justice Department did file suit, though it’s unclear whether Trump’s rants influenced that decision.
Now the president is adding a fresh bullet point:
The tweets reference a news story that surfaced Monday morning, regarding the move by activist hedge fund Elliott Management to secure a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T. The objective, stated the activist outfit, was to boost AT&T’s stock price with improved “strategic focus” and other principles of good business. Does that mean selling off Time Warner and CNN? “While it is too soon to tell whether AT&T can create value with Time Warner, we remain cautious on the benefits of this combination. AT&T has yet to articulate a clear strategic rationale for why AT&T needs to own Time Warner,” reads a letter from Elliott Management.
As New York Times reporter Ken Vogel pointed out on Twitter, Elliott Management isn’t just some faceless finance outfit:
As CNN’s own report on the Elliott stake points out, this power move gives the company just a bit more than a 1 percent stake in AT&T, ranking it as the sixth-largest institutional owner. It would have to rally other stakeholders to force a restructuring of the company’s assets. A company spokesman spoke up:
In other news, CNN reported Monday morning that the United States in 2017 extracted from Russia a top covert source in the Russian government. Key detail: “A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.”
It was a reminder that CNN, whatever you may think of it, isn’t going away. Cable news, for all its repetitive programming and deadening panel discussions, remains a great business. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2019 report on the news media, profits in this sector were projected to increase in 2018 by 4 percent to $2.8 billion. Though Fox News accounts for the lion’s share of that figure, its competitors are by no means paupers.
Perhaps with those considerations in mind, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said the following before the merger: “We’re paying a premium to get Time Warner, and when you pay a big premium, the priority is to not screw it up. CNN’s doing quite well, and the priority is to keep management teams in place.” Upending cable-news formulas is a risky proposition, one that explains why CNN continues behaving like CNN, MSNBC like MSNBC and Fox News, lamentably, like Fox News.