According to one of the sources, the 86-year-old executive chairman of Twenty-First Century Fox
offered to buy CNN
in both conversations. Another source said Murdoch had “zero interest” in owning CNN.
Representatives of Twenty-First Century Fox, AT&T and Time Warner, CNN’s parent, declined comment. CNN
has become the focal point in antitrust approval of AT&T’s $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner, hatched in October 2016.
US Department of Justice staff have recommended that AT&T sell either its DirecTV unit or Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit — which includes CNN
— a government official told Reuters on Thursday, in order to gain antitrust approval.
On Thursday Stephenson said he had no interest in selling CNN
and that he was ready to defend the deal in court
According to one of the sources on Friday, Murdoch called Stephenson twice, unprompted, on May 16 and August 8 and on both occasions asked if CNN
was for sale. Stephenson replied both times that it was not, according to the source.
The fate of CNN
has broader political significance. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the network for its coverage of his campaign and his administration, while he has publicly praised Murdoch’s Fox News.
In the run-up to last year’s election he vowed that as president his Justice Department would block AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner. He has not commented on the transaction since taking office in January.
Trump’s comments have provoked concern that he may improperly influence the US Department of Justice to block the deal. The White House has said Trump has not spoken to the attorney general about the matter.
Nevertheless, a group of eight Democratic US senators on Friday wrote to Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, urging the department “to oppose any attempt by the White House to interfere with antitrust law enforcement decisions, particularly for political reasons”.
Delrahim said he had not had any contact with the White House or the attorney general on the matter, speaking at an event at the USC Gould School of Law in Los Angeles later in the day.