Trump Doesn't Like The Media, Unless They Are Making Money

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President Donald Trump speaks to the media with First Lady Melania Trump at The White House before departing for Europe on July 5. Zach Gibson/Getty

UPDATED | It was mid-autumn last year, and the presidential campaign was coming to an end. That’s usually the time when major party nominees hone their message as they try to rally their core voters and sway the few undecided. But on October 22, Donald Trump devoted one of his precious remaining speech opportunities to a topic he’d hit on before but never to such a degree: big media companies and why they need to be broken up through antitrust laws. Sure, attacking the media is regular shtick for Trump, a former TV star who recently tweeted a doctored video of him pummeling a pro wrestling executive with the CNN logo affixed to his head. But generally his tantrums and tirades are about how the media is full of “losers” or is “unfair” or “failing”—in short, not incredibly powerful.

"As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," Trump said in October 2016 of the proposed $85 billion merger that had just been announced. That union, which is still pending, would combine the grandchild of Ma Bell with the parent company of such marquee brands as CNN, HBO and Warner Bros. studios. It’s the biggest media merger of the moment but hardly unique as telecom companies try to get more content, whether it’s an hour of Wolf Blitzer or Game of Thrones . Similarly, this spring telephone giant Verizon completed its $4.8 billion purchase of Yahoo after grabbing AOL for $4.5 billion in 2015.

Also in October, candidate Trump not only vowed to block new media mergers but pondered undoing some, such as Comcast's 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal, which had been his home for The Apprentice. Trump ripped the merger, saying it "concentrates far too much power in one massive entity that is trying to tell the voters what to think and what to do." To applause, Trump said, "Deals like this destroy democracy, and we’ll look at breaking that deal up and other deals like that up.”

But since taking office, Trump seems cool with all that “concentration of power.” The pending AT&T–Time Warner deal is not being contested by the Federal Communications Commission, which put up no obstacles to the sale. The Justice Department is still considering the merger but is widely expected to approve it. And there’s no sign Trump will try to undo the Comcast deal, or any other mega media mergers, although there are reports that it’s getting some discussion in the White House. Instead of staffing his administration with trustbusters out to break up monopolies, or media haters out to stymie these content providers, he’s governing like most Republicans and keeping his hands off such deals.

So what changed? Trump’s switch on media properties is part of a larger conversion born of delegation as opposed to campaign contributions. When it came time to staff his administration, the president-elect surrounded himself with a lot of traditional Republicans who had no interest in the populist lobe of his brain. Just as the president has abandoned his campaign promise to oppose any cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and is now championing Republican health plans that slash billions from health benefits, Trump now sounds a lot less like trust-busting crusader Teddy Roosevelt and more like that trusty pal of big business, House Speaker Paul Ryan.