The great investigative reporter Jane Meyer is out with a new comprehensive report today in The New Yorker titled “The Making of the Fox News White House.” It contains several big revelations, but perhaps the biggest is that President Trump tried to expand his authoritarian presidency into ordering the Department of Justice to block the AT&T-Time Warner acquisition. If it was revealed that Barack Obama had done something like this, Republicans would try to retroactively impeach him by the end of the day, and they’d be right to do so. This section of the report is astonishing in its pure shamelessness:
According to a well-informed source, Trump called [former Director of the National Economic Council, Gary] 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.)
There is a firewall between the presidency and the Department of Justice. The DOJ’s ultimate loyalty is to the constitution, not the executive, and Trump clearly does not understand this. It’s why he was so frustrated with his former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Trump painted Sessions’ recusal from overseeing the Mueller investigation as a choice, when a simple reading of DOJ guidelines revealed that Sessions really had no choice in the matter, given his senior standing in the Trump campaign. Had Sessions not recused himself, he would have proven that his ultimate loyalty was to Trump, and the career workers in the DOJ would have treated him as illegitimate. Sessions simply couldn’t have done his job while violating such a cut and dry DOJ policy.
Now, Mayer’s report does not come right out and state unequivocally that this temper tantrum by our wannabe tinpot dictator is definitely all about CNN, but you would have to have some immense insider knowledge that outpaces that of A+ journalists like Mayer to insinuate that this doesn’t have anything to do with CNN. I mean, just look at what the dummy willingly tweets about the network.
If you're still not convinced that the president almost surely intervened in a DOJ case in order to hurt CNN, here's the president trying to intervene in AT&T's business to try to hurt CNN (although I'm of the opinion that CNN's coverage would improve immeasurably if they got rid of a head executive who has a framed Trump tweet in his office).
Mayer's exhaustive report is mainly about Fox News' White House influence, and she also reported that the de facto state propaganda network spiked the Stormy Daniels story, as the head of FoxNews.com told the reporter who dug it up “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”
The gist of Mayer's report is that Fox News basically runs the White House. Rupert Murdoch has spent his entire life influencing politics around the globe, and now that Bill Shine, Fox News' former co-president, is running Trump's communications department, there is literally no difference between Fox News and the state line. They are one and the same, and because Mayer and others report that Trump and Murdoch speak all the time, you cannot help but wonder if they have spoken about this DOJ case involving one of Fox News' competitors, given former Fox News host Greta Van Sustren's assertion that “Rupert is first about the bottom line.”
Fox News is essentially dictating policy in the Trump administration—an administration that tried to intervene in an acquisition involving Fox News’ only real competitor (no one at Fox News should ever worry about losing viewers to MSNBC). One look at Trump’s invective towards CNN proves that he doesn’t need anyone to turn him against the network, but it’s clear that he takes his cues from Fox News shows like Fox & Friends. The conflict of interest here could not be any clearer.
What makes this all especially maddening is that Trump is right about wanting to block this acquisition, just for all the wrong reasons. His own DOJ asked a federal appeals court to reconsider AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, because according to government attorney Michael Murray, “a threat of blackout will allow Time Warner to increase the prices for its rivals.” A cursory look at history demonstrates that a massive acquisition like this always leads to higher prices for consumers and less competition in the market. In fact, that’s the main point behind crowding out the market like this. The president of the United States should advocate against yet another merger that makes consolidates our economy into the hands of the few, but he should just do it through his bully pulpit and let the Department of Justice run autonomously the way it’s supposed to. Otherwise, stopping corporate authoritarianism with political authoritarianism will do nothing but create more authoritarianism in an increasingly authoritarian society.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.