President Trump on Monday floated the notion of a consumer boycott of AT&T, the telecommunications firm turned media colossus, an apparent attempt to punish the company for the news coverage produced by one of its subsidiaries, CNN.
“I believe that if people stoped using or subscribing to @ATT, they would be forced to make big changes at @CNN, which is dying in the ratings anyway,” the president wrote on Twitter, shortly after touching down in Britain for a state visit. “It is so unfair with such bad, Fake News! Why wouldn’t they act. When the World watches @CNN, it gets a false picture of USA. Sad!”
Mr. Trump, who had apparently been watching CNN during his trans-Atlantic flight, complained about the channel’s coverage in an earlier tweet: “All negative & so much Fake News, very bad for U.S.” He added: “Why doesn’t owner @ATT do something?”
Complaining about CNN is typical for Mr. Trump, who has vilified the network since his presidential campaign. And this was not the first time that he had attacked an American news organization while on foreign soil. In July, at a news conference in Britain with the prime minister, Theresa May, the president denounced CNN as “fake news” and refused to take questions from its correspondent Jim Acosta.
Still, Mr. Trump’s message on Monday was a notable public lashing of AT&T in the wake of its $85 billion acquisition of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, which catapulted the Texas-based telecom giant into the sharp-elbowed sphere of national media.
Representatives for AT&T and CNN declined to comment on Monday.
Advocates of press freedom have raised alarms about Mr. Trump’s treatment of news organizations, particularly the signal it sends when he is abroad. Autocrats around the world have echoed Mr. Trump’s recitations of “fake news” in suppressing independent journalism.
Mr. Trump’s comments on Monday attracted attention from lawmakers back home. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter that it was “Un-be-lievable” to see Mr. Trump “advocating boycotting an American company because the press isn’t covering him favorably.”
The president’s animus toward CNN flared up in the buildup to AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which was completed last year and placed the 24-hour news network — along with HBO, Turner Broadcasting and the Warner Bros. entertainment studios — under AT&T’s control.
Mr. Trump frequently impugned CNN and its journalists as his Department of Justice sued to block the deal, and White House advisers discussed the pending merger as a potential point of leverage over the news network. AT&T ultimately prevailed in court and placed the erstwhile Time Warner properties in a new division, WarnerMedia.
The Trump administration’s handling of the AT&T merger contrasted with another major media deal, the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of a majority of 21st Century Fox, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled parent company of the president’s preferred news network, Fox News. (Fox News stayed with the Murdoch family after that merger.) The Disney-Fox transaction received government approval six months after it was announced, an unusually short time frame.
The president’s call for a boycott did not appear to worry AT&T’s investors. Its stock price closed on Monday at $31.09 a share, up 1.7 percent.