By Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Rupert Murdoch telephoned AT&T Inc <T.N> Chief Executive Randall Stephenson twice in the last six months and talked about cable network CNN, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters on Friday.
According to one of the sources, the 86-year-old executive chairman of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc <FOXA.O> 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 Inc <TWX.N>, hatched in October 2016.
U.S. 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 if necessary.
According to one of the sources on Friday, Murdoch called Stephenson twice, unprompted, on May 16 and Aug. 8 and on both occasions asked if CNN was for sale. Stephenson replied both times that it was not, according to the source.
TRUMP COMMENTS WEIGH
The fate of CNN has broader political significance. U.S. 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.