Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes was interviewed at a conference hosted by Business Insider Tuesday. Most of the conversation was about the development of on demand programming, advertising and other topics of concern to the CEO of a major media company. However, at one point the interviewer asked Bewkes, whose company owns CNN, how he felt about the spotlight turned on the news network by Donald Trump. Bewkes replied that he thought Democrats represented a greater threat to the First Amendment than the Republicans. He even added that the media tended to miss that because it was more likely to agree with the Democrats.
“First of all the administration has had various disappointments in its evaluation of the press with all of the news outlets, pretty much,” Bewkes said. “So, yeah, at times they’ve mentioned CNN and we’ve noticed some of those mentions have been exaggerated by other media outlets…I don’t know why they would do that,” he added with a bit of sarcasm.
Bewkes went on to defend CNN and argued some of the Republican party’s dissatisfaction with the media were driven by having so many competing candidates in the field coming from different perspectives. “I think we’re going to see it on the Democratic side too,” Bewkes added.
But the interviewer pressed Bewkes saying, “But [Trump’s] threatening to effectively change the First Amendment. He’s obviously got CNN in his sights are you worried about that at all?”
“Nah, I don’t think that’s a serious thing,” Bewkes replied. “We should all worry if anybody’s going to change the First Amendment and remember the Democratic Party had a campaign plank to change the First Amendment,” he said. “And they were doing it in the guise of campaign finance reform. And that was worrying me more because the press tends to miss that,” he added.
“Because they tend to lean that way and they were supporting what they were viewing, I think, overly charitably as something in cleaning up money in politics when in fact what it would do is restrain multiple voices. And so I thought the threat to the First Amendment came from the Democratic side.” Bewkes concluded, “there’s not going to be a serious effort on the Republican side.
Bewkes is referring to Democrats’ stated desire to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That ruling, which was opposed by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, arose after a conservative group tried to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton prior to the 2008 election. At the time the film was judged to violate the McCain-Feingold Act prohibiting political expenditures by groups. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that such expenditures aimed at influencing elections were covered by the First Amendment.
The discussion of the First Amendment starts at about 1:24:00.