Holman Jenkins Discusses the “Public Interest” Circus Driving Today’s Anti-Merger Theater

by Mike Wendy on March 12, 2014

I don’t usually employ much of other writers’ work in my pieces because of fair use concerns.  But, today’s piece on the Comcast / Time Warner merger by WSJ’s Holman Jenkins (“Now on Cable: That 90’s Show”) needs pointing out.  In the article, he makes some prescient observations about the professional, sky-is-falling “pubic interest” advocates who oppose most unions in our tech sphere because, well, they don’t know how to do anything else.

Similarly, the mainstream press – which often carries the water of these nonsense advocates – willfully ignores much of what Jenkins and groups like mine argue about to advance their own genetic, chip-on-their-shoulder goals, which they perceive their readers share, too.

Sadly, the object is not so much to inform or elucidate with their writing, but rather to deceive and obfuscate.  Frankly, this echo-chamber codependency of “public interest” lobbyists and the MSM is anything but spontaneous and real.  It is agenda-driven theater.  And, wrong more often than not.

Today’s communications markets are dynamic and complex.  To that end, the proposed Comcast / Time Warner merger indeed deserves patient and disinterested evaluation.  Importantly, what does not serve this exercise well, as Jenkins notes,  are shrill calls from the paid-for “fairness” crowd to automatically defeat this merger (or any merger for that matter) just because, well, it’s their wont and chromosomal disposition.

Attached are some key excerpts from Jenkins’ piece:

“The medal for obtuseness goes to the outpouring of commentary since the Time Warner-Comcast merger. Every big deal gets its share, but good grief.

“The pièce de résistance was a Paul Krugman column in the New York Times that seemed studiously ignorant of any developments in the TV business since the arrival of satellite in the mid-1990s. Ditto a piece by conservative economist Irwin Stelzer in the Weekly Standard, which boldly concluded that the merger is ‘anticompetitive’ and ‘anticonsumer’ based on an anecdote from 1996, when Rupert Murdoch fought to get Fox News picked up by then-CNN owner Time Warner’s Manhattan cable system…

Krugman Crawford_edited-1

“Oh well, if a merger can qualify as ‘big,’ a market will exist for alleged experts to shriek monopoly. Mr. Krugman brings his inimitable method: glance at a press release by some liberal group, make a few assumptions and then wing it in a way meant vaguely to validate his strangely Manichaean sense of partisan allegiances. Mr. Stelzer, for his part, appears to be merely asleep. And joining them in their corner are the usual anti-business ‘public interest’ groups who oppose mergers because that’s what they do.

“Here’s the truth, folks. Comcast-Time Warner may be of interest to specialists in the way a new butterfly pattern is of interest to lepidopterists, but the proposed merger would change nothing you care about in a way noticeable to you, whether it receives government approval or not.

“That was true of the Comcast-NBC merger of 2009, in which the end of the world was also mooted.


“It was true of Time Warner’s 2000 merger with AOL, whose threat to humanity was painted in lurid colors though the threat turned out to be to Time Warner stockholders.

“It was true of the cavalcade of eye-popping transactions in the late 1990s that gave birth to AT&T Broadband (don’t ask) and then saw the caboodle dumped on Comcast at a colossal loss…

“Yes, there will be a political circus, deeply gratifying to people whose income and prestige derive from the circus. By all means, turn in their direction if you’ve eaten some bad clams that you want to get out of your system.”

As we have seen in the past, “Big” does not guarantee success; nor does such a union automatically stand against the public interest.  Consequently, it should not, of its label, predispose it to disqualification – no matter what Paul Krugman and Susan Crawford (are paid to) say.

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