AT&T has held on to CNN for more than just its profit stream. Executives suspected that President Trump's well-known feud with CNN influenced his Justice Department's decision to challenge the Time Warner takeover, people familiar with the matter say. AT&T eventually beat that antitrust lawsuit, but the litigation cost it valuable time and money. The Justice Department has denied that political motives played any role in the suit
The company's top brass considered holding on to the hard-won prize a competitive necessity, the people said: The fear among AT&T executives was that any perception the company had folded under political pressure would weaken its hand in other policy battles and could scare away creative talent at other parts of WarnerMedia.
AT&T's latest results drove home how much its telecom services dwarf the rest of its media empire, including the cable news channel. Revenue in the wireless division alone reached $17.9 billion last quarter, putting the cellphone carrier on track to take in more than $71 billion this year.
CNN insiders see few candidates poised to succeed Mr. Zucker within WarnerMedia. Among the candidates mentioned internally as possible successors or at least placeholders are senior programming executive Mike Bass, talent and acquisition head Amy Entelis and newsgathering chief Virginia Moseley.
Mr. Zucker's replacement would need the programming acumen and gravitas to manage the network's high-profile anchors, which include Jake Tapper and Chris Cuomo, and the financial experience to lead a large media company.
Mr. Zucker is aware of the increased scrutiny CNN faces as the election looms, one of the people said.
During CNN's morning editorial call earlier this week, Mr. Zucker told employees that the network needs to play "error-free ball" over the next few weeks.
--Shalini Ramachandran contributed to this article.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires