Time Warner Chief Says Democrats, Not Trump, Were Bigger First Amendment Threat

Jeff Bewkes

Donald Trump has railed against the media and threatened to change libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters who print or broadcast critical coverage.

One of the president-elect’s favorite targets has been CNN. However, Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, who leads CNN’s parent company, doesn’t believe that Trump poses a grave threat to free speech.

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” said Bewkes, who said that Trump’s issues with CNN have been magnified by rival news organizations.

Speaking Tuesday morning at Business Insider’s Ignitiion: Future of Digital conference, The Time Warner chief argued that he was more concerned about the Democratic Party’s commitment to campaign finance reform. On the trail, Hillary Clinton, the party’s nominee, said that she would push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and interest groups.

“I think the threat to the First Amendment came more from the Democratic side,” said Bewkes, who argued that the reforms would “restrain multiple voices.” He suggested that the press didn’t cover that threat because they “lean” to left side of the political spectrum. “I think they viewed it charitably as something cleaning up money in politics,” said Bewkes.

He did not mention the fact that Time Warner, which makes money from television advertising, benefits financially from loosening restrictions on political spending.

Bewkes, whose company is awaiting government approval for its $85.4 billion sale to AT&T, also struck back at a New York Post report that HBO, the company’s cable channel, is disappointed by subscriptions for its streaming service, HBO Now. The subscriber base is just above 1 million, which the paper said suggested the service was not as popular as Time Warner has expected the offering would be.

Bewkes quipped that maybe the numbers were disappointing to the Post, but not to Time Warner brass.

“They do have some good stories in there, that one I don’t think was one of them,” said Bewkes.

He also hit back at suggestions that Bill Simmons’ “Any Given Wednesday,” a ratings-challenged interview show with sports figures, was a dud. The show was recently canceled.

“It didn’t flop,” said Bewkes, who said that HBO doesn’t make programming decisions based on ratings.  He added that Simmons is “working on other things which we think will be better and fairly noticeable.”

Bewkes also paid a backhanded compliment to Netflix, the streaming service that is seen as a main rival to more traditional media companies. He said it was “great,” just not as great as HBO.

“I watch it when I can,” he said, adding, “Don’t you watch things in order of preference? First you watch the good stuff.”

Later in the day, Bewkes spoke at UBS’ Global Media and Communications conference. He vowed that HBO’s programming budget — which he described as “a couple of billion dollars” — will continue to grow in the face of heightened competition from Netflix, Amazon and other high-end services.

“We’ve been increasing it and we’ll keep increasing it,” he said. “We’re going to be increasing the original programming, as we have. We think we can do just fine with the economic structure we’ve got.” And he emphasized the buzzy new drama “Westworld” just concluded the most-watched first season of any HBO series, including “Game of Thrones.”

Bewkes also talked up Warner Bros.’ strong year at the box office and said the theatrical side will be the big driver of the studio’s earnings for this year and next. He acknowledged that the first wave of the studio’s DC Comics tentpole strategy — this year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” — were not critical hits. But he said both of those movies also had a big job to do in introducing so many of the characters that will thread through the next 18 planned releases.

“To the extent we fell short a little — and I don’t think we fell short by a giant amount — it taught us where to take the next films,” he said.



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  1. Wil says:

    Liberals lose their minds when they are called out. Millions of people feel that liberals want free speech, but only for those who agree with them.

  2. Randy Zeese says:

    Of course Jeff Bewkes would say that Democrats are a bigger threat to the first amendment -and the media–than Trump! All you need to do is read his self-aggrandizing, ‘nothing is our fault’ -‘d ‘we can do no wrong’ posturing in this interview to see that he is just like Trump!!

  3. Do any of you realize that if Citizen’s United were overturned, political contributions from special interest groups, such as unions, the Trial Lawyers Association, environmental organizations and pro-choice organizations, would be seriously curtailed as well?

  4. Dion Draper says:

    another case of an idiot wearing a suit.

  5. Democrats have pushed for campaign finance reform to lessen the influence of billionaires and corporations, and to allow the voices of those without money or influence to be heard above the din.

    Donald Trump has suggested that flag burners should lose their citizenship.

    And yet the Democrats are the threat to free speech

  6. ovillegator says:

    What Bewkes is saying, is that Citizens United created a funnel for BILLIONS of dollars of POLITICAL ADS… money which much of went to the news networks! Now do you see the picture? The majority — 75% to 25% — was from Hillary’s campaign.

    Had the media won the election for her as most tried, she would never have overturned their cash cow.

  7. 12/06/16 4:52p Variety Brent Lang Jeff Bewkes Time Warner CEO
    Corporations are People I’m a Person No Matter How Big! CNN was salivating over their Kiss Ass Smooch on Trumps Ass all Election Season! CNN made Millions with TV Adverts/Ratings off Trumps savaging of everyone including the Media even though CNN wasa target by Trump! The fact Bewkes commented that Democrats opposed Citizens United was Worse than Trumps threats to sue the Media and change the libel laws. Bewkes and Trump are saying we are privileged and we can do whatever want! Not on your life Bub!

  8. gptobin says:

    Welcome to Moscow on the Hudson, so to speak. Only corporate oligarchs need apply. Comment at fedupwithdonaldtrump.com.

  9. See Me - Feel Me says:

    Pretty transparent that both the Time Warner CEO and the ATT CEO would speak favorably of a Trump win given that he has steadfastly promoted a no merger vote for these two monopolistic companies. They know, as everyone should know by now, that Trump responds well to kissing up so put on a pretty shade, drop trow and let’s get it done.

  10. The Truth says:

    Contrary to Bewkes’ self-serving, delusional assessment, Citizens United “restrain(s) multiple voices” by empowering deep-pocketed corporations to monopolize political advertising and skew the political conversation in favor of business interests, rather than the common good. What’s good for Time Warner (deregulation that allows them to restrain competition and gouge customers) is not good for America.

    • Mark says:

      Next time someone starts blathering on about the liberal media, I’m just going to have them check out this article. “Liberal media” is like saying “liberal banks” or “liberal oil companies.”

  11. Kenmandu says:

    He’s a hack and kissing up to trump to get his merger Approved. Citizens united basically destroyed representative democracy you greedy pig!

  12. Gary says:

    Jpj stated it perfectly.

  13. Dunstan says:

    Bewkes has stayed too long at the fair. I hope the merger is never approved.

  14. jmengele says:

    cannot believe bewkes does not see through the way in which Trump has treated the media heretofore. well, there’s always karma. especially if we have kids.

    • JPJ says:

      Corporations are not citizens — there interest is in making money for stockholders, not building a strong democracy made up of civic minded voters dedicated to our country’s future.

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