Monday, July 10, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021, excerpt six)

from The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser:

For Murdoch, the Trump takeover in Washington was not just a political proposition but a business one. In 2014, he had tried to buy Time Warner, only to be rebuffed. So when Time Warner agreed in 2016 to be acquired by AT&T for $85 billion, making it the nation’s largest media company and a threat to the 21st Century Fox empire, he felt burned and looked for ways to thwart the merger. Trump was so eager to declare himself publicly on Murdoch’s side he did not even wait for the deal to be formally announced. On the same Saturday in October that the AT&T board of directors was making its final decision on the merger, they picked up their phones to discover that Trump had already vowed to block the deal if he were elected president, “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

Trump was hardly concerned about the danger of monopolies in a free society. His real problem with the merger was the fact that Time Warner owned CNN. As he saw it, CNN was his personal enemy as well as a competitor to Murdoch’s Fox. The network was run by Jeff Zucker, the former NBC executive who first put The Apprentice on the air, arguably paving the way for Trump’s eventual political career. As Trump began running for president, Zucker put his rallies on CNN from start to finish, savoring the viewership bonanza. But when it became clear that Trump was not the “sideshow” Zucker once thought he was, CNN took a tougher tone and Trump became convinced his former sponsor was a traitor.

After his election, Trump summoned Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive officer, to Trump Tower for a meeting where he erupted about Zucker and CNN. “Jeff Zucker’s a bad guy,” Trump ranted. “I made that guy. I got that guy his job.” It was the most bizarre meeting Stephenson had ever had with a national leader and the moment he realized that the threat to the merger with Time Warner was probably real. AT&T sought to play Trump’s game, donating $2 million to his inaugural fund and hiring Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, to advise them on how to navigate the new administration, a move Stephenson later called “a big mistake.”

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