WASHINGTON — In the hours after the Disney-Fox merger was announced on Thursday, President Trump spoke with Rupert Murdoch to congratulate him on the deal and seemingly expressed some support for it.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump “thinks that — to use one of the president’s favorite words — that this could be a great thing for jobs, and certainly looks forward to — and hoping to see a lot more of those created.”
Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine reported that Trump called Murdoch ahead of the Disney deal to make sure that Fox News would not be among the assets sold.
Given Trump’s relationship with Murdoch, the president’s expression of at least some favoritism for the mega-merger is likely to again focus attention on his influence over a major media transaction.
That has been an issue in the AT&T-Time Warner merger, which is now being challenged by the Justice Department. Makan Delrahim, the chief of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, denies that the decision to try to block the deal was because of White House interference, and argues that the transaction poses anticompetitive concerns that could mean higher prices for consumers.
But Trump has railed against CNN during the presidential campaign and in his first year in office, and has said that there is a problem with media concentration in general. There were reports that Justice Department attorneys told AT&T that one of their options was to sell the Turner division, which includes the news network, as a way to get the deal approved.
By contrast, Trump has expressed more favorable views of Fox News, and routinely quotes from “Fox & Friends” in his morning tweets.
The Disney-Fox deal faces a regulatory review process that could take up to 18 months, and Disney CEO Bob Iger said on “Good Morning America” the transaction “is a different kind of merger [from AT&T-Time Warner]. We’re hoping the government takes a look at this from a consumer point of view.”
In their merger announcement, the two companies talked about saving $2 billion from cost efficiencies, but it is unclear if that means jobs will be trimmed.
Iger had a relationship with Trump as one of the business leaders who were members of the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum. But he resigned from the group in June in protest of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords.
There was some talk of the merger — and whether Trump’s comments on it will only call more attention to his role in the review process — at the Washington DC premiere of “The Post” on Thursday, which was hosted by its distributor, 21st Century Fox. Director Steven Spielberg, who was joined by stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks at the event, declined to comment on the transaction.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that “any merger that size, we should have hearings.”
“I know all the players involved. I am sure they have looked at it. I think the American public should have a say in it too,” he said of the $52 billion transaction.