KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It has become routine for President Trump to attack the media in his tweets and his speeches and even in press conferences. One news organization in particular has been his target lately, and that is CNN. During a speech in Poland, Trump went out of his way to attack the cable news channel.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They have some pretty serious problems. They have been fake news for a long time. They've been covering me in a very dishonest way.
MCEVERS: A recent report in The New York Times suggests the president's animosity toward CNN could actually complicate its future. CNN's parent company is hoping to merge with AT&T. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been tracking all this, and he's with us now. Hey, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So first just explain - why does the president seem to single out CNN more than any other news organization these days?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, first let's stipulate the president and the administration seems to enjoy attacking the media and its legitimacy writ large. But he seems to...
FOLKENFLIK: ...Focus a lot on CNN. It's worth remembering how much coverage and how much unmediated coverage CNN, along with other cable channels, gave to Donald Trump during the primaries last year. It really helped fuel his drive. It beefed up its investigative reporting, and that was something that he really took badly as it turned its eyes on him and as it reported much more critically upon him. I think also there's a personal tie there. You know, Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN, really was the head of NBC in 2004 when they created the "Apprentice" franchise. It helped NBC a lot. Trump has publicly claimed credit for Jeff Zucker going on to head CNN. He says, you know, he should be lauded by CNN as a result.
MCEVERS: As I said, the telecommunications giant AT&T is planning to take over CNN's parent company, Time Warner, in a deal that could be worth $85 billion. I mean this New York Times report that I mentioned says the White House - that White House aides have actually discussed using that deal as leverage over CNN. Is that even possible?
FOLKENFLIK: It's possible. This is a deal that's subject to review by the Justice Department. There's a question of antitrust, too much consolidation. Donald Trump as a candidate and Donald Trump as a new president has been on the record opposed to this deal. He said it - he's worried about media consolidation, although he keeps acknowledging that, you know, it would impact CNN. You know, it's a question of how much officials are willing to violate norms and possibly laws to do this. A Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, has pointedly asked today in a letter to Justice Department officials whether there has been any such contact about it. So far, we have no evidence there has.
MCEVERS: In some ways, both CNN and President Trump have prospered from this grudge match, right? I mean how seriously should we take Trump's posture towards CNN right now?
FOLKENFLIK: So CNN is set to reach what it says will be record profits. It registered enormous profits last year, big ratings for the Trump bump, for people's fascination, concerns about the candidate and now the president. And you know, Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he feels people should give him essentially credit for that. And he's essentially saying not report so critically on him. Instead, he's undercutting it. I think there is a level of concern.
You've seen, for example - there was a story done by one of its younger investigative reporters to reveal who came up with that body slam video, a guy on Reddit that was taken and tweeted by the president from two of his accounts. Well, he decided not to reveal that name. That decision became controversial. It became a cause on the right. And his family has been subject to dozens of threats of personal harm.
I think additionally, what the president is doing is trying with the senior officials to delegitimize the press, its ability to hold the administration accountable. They see the press as part of the establishment that they ran against, opposed to what the Trump administration hopes to do. They're personifying it with CNN - such a big brand - and saying, these guys are fake; these guys are false. This is another iteration of that. And I think it's very intentional and harmful to our civic discourse.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's David Folkenflik in New York. Thanks a lot.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.