ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A federal judge handed AT&T a huge victory today. Judge Richard Leon approved an $85 billion bid to take over the Time Warner media conglomerate. Justice Department lawyers had argued that the combined company would be too big, that it would hurt competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. The judge rejected those arguments, writing that the government had failed to meet its burden of proof. Joining us now is NPR's David Folkenflik, who's been following the case. Hi, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So is this just a complete win for the company? It sounds like they got pretty much exactly what they wanted.
FOLKENFLIK: I mean, if you read the decision, if you see what the judge had to say - that's Richard Leon - AT&T drew a full house straight from the deck. He not only rejected the government's contention that consumers would be significantly adversely affected, he put no limitations or restrictions on the proposed merger - takeover of Time Warner and, in fact, advised the government not to appeal. He said it would be unfair given the economic cost that would - the hundreds of millions of dollars that having to push past the June 21 deadline would cost the companies.
SHAPIRO: Advise the government not to appeal - so this case is pretty much over and the merger is going forward.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it appears as though lawyers at the Justice Department's antitrust division are reviewing their options in the words of the antitrust chief. But he's basically said he would not stave his decision to allow the department extra time to appeal, although he cautioned that he was not erasing their ability to do so.
SHAPIRO: And I understand the judge was especially hard on the government's key witness. Tell us about that.
FOLKENFLIK: Brutal. He said that there was faulty reasoning, faulty evidence provided by the government's key expert, that there was no proof in harm to consumers. I mean, that's - you know, we talk about what the gains and drawbacks are for various corporate players in these things but ultimately, you know, supposedly these decisions are supposed to be not only thought about in terms of the competition that might emerge from this or be dampened by this but by how consumers will be affected. The marginal financial cost that was cited by the government was pretty modest, and even that doesn't seem to have been taken all that seriously by the judge.
SHAPIRO: So what does this really huge merger mean for the media landscape and for other prospective mergers?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, right - and they're a two-fold thing. One of which is there's not only a sigh of relief but a rush of adrenaline, first for AT&T and for Time Warner. This deal will be a huge coup for the head of AT&T. It will be a huge sigh of relief for Jeff Bewkes, who's been figuring out how to deal with a reconstructed Hollywood. Obviously, Time Warner owns not just CNN but HBO, Warner Brothers, a bunch of cable channels including TNT and TBS, right? And they're looking over their shoulders at the behemoth of Netflix, at Amazon and soon at Apple, streaming services that can bypass conventional TV and film studios businesses. And they're saying we have to figure out a way to not only have the content but have the funnels and the pipelines of delivery - AT&T, of course, one the largest telecom providers in the country and broadband providers in the country.
This is going to open up folks making deals. Disney is already trying to take over most of 21st Century Fox's entertainment properties from Rupert Murdoch. It now appears that Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, wants to make a greater bid to snatch it out from Disney. And there are a lot of other companies in other fields. Think of Sprint and T-Mobile, which want to merge, which are direct competitors who say, you know what? If this is getting struck down by the government, we stand a much stronger chance - excuse me - by the courts, we stand a much stronger chance of being able to get our kind of mergers through as well.
SHAPIRO: This proposed merger was also unusual in that President Trump weighed in and said he thought it would put too much power in the hands of too few. Obviously, the judge didn't find that argument compelling either.
FOLKENFLIK: Well - and this has been looming over the case, even though the judge essentially banished and banned all talk of the president's remarks. The president, you know, had said exactly what you said, striking a populist tone, in some ways getting the support of a lot of liberals and Democrats who think there's been too much corporate consolidation but also seemingly in the same breath invoking his disdain for CNN, you know, his slapping the label of false - fake news on that cable channel and using this as a cudgel at least rhetorically against its corporate chiefs. The antitrust lawyers went out after him, but they lost. And, you know, the president has been defeated on this.
SHAPIRO: NPR's David Folkenflik, thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.