“Victoria Graham on Antitrust and Corporate Crime Journalism” (Two Think Minimum Podcast)

“Victoria Graham on Antitrust and Corporate Crime Journalism” (Two Think Minimum Podcast)

Two Think Minimum Podcast Transcript
Episode 012: “Victoria Graham on Antitrust and Corporate Crime Journalism”
Recorded on: September 27, 2018


Sarah:  Hi and welcome back to TPI’s podcast Two Think Minimum. It’s Thursday, September 27, 2018, and I’m Sarah Oh, a research fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. Today we’re excited to talk with Victoria Graham, a journalist with Bloomberg.

Victoria Graham as an antitrust and corporate crime reporter for Bloomberg Law in Washington, covering news and trends with the Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission. Victoria’s antitrust coverage also extends into private litigation matters, including antitrust suits against the NCAA and employee class actions involving employer no poach agreements, Ms. Graham received her B.A. in media studies in government from the University of Virginia. I’m joined today by Scott Wallsten, TPI Senior Fellow and President, who will start off asking Victoria some questions about her thoughts on antitrust journalism today.

Scott:  Thanks for joining us today.

Victoria:  Happy to be here.

Scott:  Thanks for coming to Aspen and that great interview you did with Barry Nigro. Actually, I’d like to start off by asking you whether you think that antitrust has become more politicized lately.

Victoria:  Oh, definitely, especially on Twitter. Trump took note of going after Amazon, specifically calling out antitrust violations and a recent Bloomberg Whitehouse interview. Then we saw, yesterday, (this week is already been very long), yesterday, the state attorney generals convened at the Justice Department with Attorney General Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, and Makin Delrahim to chat — antitrust. And if, the purpose of that chat was supposed to be, if there is political censorship on these platforms, it seemed to be from reporting, that it diverged into privacy issues and not as politicized issues as we had anticipated. But it’s still a top concern that, from what analysts have been telling me and what I’ve been chatting with my colleagues, didn’t more evolve into a state AG probe instead of a DOJ probe at this point. It’s interesting though that they view this question of bias as an antitrust one.

I wrote an article about this when it first came out about Trump’s tweets. To attach this to an antitrust concern under DOJ is very much a leap of faith. If an actual investigation were to be brought forth, if there would have to be some sort of smoking gun, like some sort of collusion between all these companies with emails that if they were saying, “hey, Facebook, hey Instagram, hey Twitter, let’s all not tweet these Republican” is, you know, very far right thoughts because we want to depress these types of views. There are, there’s just so many things that can fall out that could not lead. You can’t attach any antitrust concern to potential political censorship with these platforms.

Scott:  But is that their theory to the extent there is one that it’s collusion?  It seems like to be Trump’s theory. He’s always talking about collusion, not for him, but for everybody else.

Victoria:  The only thing that antitrust attorneys were telling me about this, if we could see that maybe there are algorithms that specifically we see Facebook and Twitter are working to mind kind of data because of a concern that these types of far right leaning views tend to bring. It’s a commercial interest. “We don’t want to see these types of views on our platform because they’re anti-Semitic or, racial bias, any sort of way. We’ve already seen this fall out with Facebook and you know seeing content live streamed and anti-Semitic content, come forth and to those views at Chavez views be censored because they’re obviously just very far right and just not in the context of what we want to see on those types of platforms. So there can be a commercial interest then that would, if there was some sort of algorithm that prevented these dudes from coming forth, they can just attach it to that commercial concern so that, you mean the company is going attach it to a commercial answer.

Scott:   Do you think that going on with that the theme of what should be on platforms and what shouldn’t be?  I do think there’s more a concern of that things get taken off that shouldn’t be taken off or the things end up on that shouldn’t be on because they know it’s, they can do, they can air sort of on one side or the other. Neither one is good.

Victoria:  The whole Alex Jones controversy with the Sandy Hook is a great one of things that should not be on this because it’s obviously incorrect. Why were we going to continue to legitimize the point of view that’s obviously false. But you obviously see scenarios when Facebook and other platforms unintentionally took off and point of view and he has erupted into a firestorm. I think it’s kind of a balance. But I think most of the time I think I’ve seen just more coverage of things that shouldn’t have been taken off that were and it’s just a matter of it seems like just the technology is not a tightly wound does, it should be with, with regulating those types of things.

Scott:  So you think so far they err on the side of taking too much off or not, but that’s what they’re trying to do to be, you think those are the types of narratives that get caught up more than news then types of narratives when content is that should be so interesting. So people get more upset when something’s taken off that they think shouldn’t be taken off then when something stays on.

I just think that type of narrative, it catches more eyes and it can be driven faster on Twitter and that’s a narrative that can be driven home faster and gain more popularity than views on things that should be definitely taking off of those platforms.

Scott:  I mean, you’re going back to the antitrust part of it is, are people pushing an antitrust angle just because that’s the way DOJ would be involved and it’s just another institution to get involved?

Victoria:  I think with the antitrust angle, a lot of people believe it’s the right tool to use in terms of government regulation, and breaking up Facebook, breaking up these big companies has been a big push. Just because Facebook owns Instagram, they own WhatsApp, they have just so many arms of levers that the average consumer may not realize it’s actually one entity owning all of these things on the same with Google. I think antitrust has just blown up and recently as recent years as a big policy lever because it hasn’t potential breaking up companies, but it has to be exercised in the right way where there isn’t a monopolistic power that’s threatening market concentration. You just cannot prove that right now with this whole antitrust, uh, Facebook is censoring content. A storyline that’s been kind of flowing the past few weeks. So I think that’s a good thing.

Sarah:  I’ll bring up the panel that you hosted for us at our Aspen Forum. You interviewed Deputy Assistant Attorney General.  In that discussion you’ve brought up some of these same questions and one thing that you said was there’s an idea that’s floating around that, big like big tech just because it’s big, but there’s also the counterpoint that “big isn’t bad but big that behaves badly is bad.” So there’s more nuance when you get into antitrust land that our antitrust laws don’t punish winners and monopolies, but it’s when they actually exercise that power to her competition when they’re actual effects.

Let’s talk a little bit about what the panel was on. You touched on newsworthy antitrust matters like the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, AT&T/Time Warner case, the AmEx case on two-sided markets, Tribune and Sinclair that hasn’t, didn’t go through now. You talked about network effects or technology markets. How did you think that interview went and what’s your general approach to interviewing antitrust regulators?

Victoria:  I try to cover as much ground as I could with the most noteworthy topics at the time, and just reading through his speeches that he gave prior to this conference and just seeing his thought process was with large with large themes like network effects, um, helped me kind of hone in my questions and then attach those types of themes to what the big mergers were going on that were most likely at the time under DOJ review. When I interview individuals at the DOJ and another antitrust individuals, I have to be cognizant of what I know will be off the record, what I know they can’t touch upon because it’s a pending matter, you know, Sprint/T-Mobile.

But, you know, kind of picking out their views about with Sprint/T-Mobile, I went into how this 5G argument and how can an argument about merger efficiencies that to companies when they combine their going to bring about this new technology, how much even outside the Sprint/T-Mobile context, how much is a merger efficiency enough to outweigh any potential anticompetitive concerns and bring forth remedies or bring forth and approval in an otherwise anticompetitive merger.

Victoria:  I try to work a divvy up my questions about long-term effects, what we’ve seen as themes and mergers and how companies are pitching them in ways DOJ would kind of put their heel in the ground to prevent that or maybe let it through. It’s a give and take because I have to be cognizant of what they can’t do, but try to push, put toe the line as much as I can with a general themes that can shine light on what they’re thinking about in a pending merger case.

Sarah:  I thought it was interesting his response to your questions in markets and data is data itself, does it create market dominance? These are big questions for tech and the DOJ is thinking about them and you can’t leap to conclusions just because a company has a lot of data there. They are for their dominant and we need to break them up. So what do you think about coming off of that? The FTC competition hearings? We were both at the first one and he said we kind of tuned in for the second one. There are six more. What’s your take on the hearing so far?

Victoria:  In the second hearing, [FTC Commissioner] Rebecca Slaughter, made a point there in the very beginning saying that if we walk away from these FTC hearing and just giving ourselves a pat on the back, then we haven’t done our job. It’s a lot of say what would mean that they had done their job. She didn’t specifically point out, but the thought of, you know, if there needs to be vertical remedy, a vertical merger guidelines, so, being a revisited, that’s been a topic discussed earlier at Georgetown this week.

It was discussed with some FTC officials there as well. Based on what I saw, she didn’t really go into the specifics of what it was, but it definitely seemed like this wasn’t just a thought process exercise. It was a ignore reflective exercise. It’s one where would you want to see where we’re getting things wrong. I think specifically, there’s been a lot of talk at the FTC about looking at how long merger reviews have taken, and seeing if that’s been a sticking point. Um, and it has led to lacks any trust enforcement potentially based on if it just have taken too long, if they’ve been too short, where we need to get that right in order to bring about more robust antitrust enforcement enforcement that’s needed.

Scott:  Is there bipartisan agreement among the commissioners that antitrust enforcement has not been strict enough?

Victoria:  I think it’s been with this new incoming slew of FTC commissioners. It’s a topic that’s been brought up more often than in the past, but it’s interesting to see the DOJ take a different review because Makin Delrahim announced earlier this week that they are going to reduce their work as best as they can to reduce their merger review period to six months or less. While from my reading of the FTC early this week at the same conference, they don’t want to hold themselves to those same amount of time requirements, but are cognizant of how long it takes and in their view kind of pretty much the longer it takes, it’s not a reflection on us, as a slower job, a more thorough job. They seem to be doing it more empirical study, retroactive retrospective approach to seeing how long it’s taken while the DOJ is moving forward with this strict six month timeline. Making amendments direct their actual procedural measures to enforce that view.

Scott:  Speaking of how long it takes them to review a merger, what did you think about the process by which a Disney/Comcast bid for Fox. It seemed like DOJ and Disney were negotiating before if the deal had ever gone through.  That’s weird, right?

Victoria:  He made some comments earlier in the summer saying how there were surgical remedies and negotiations between the DOJ front office folks and the attorneys working on behalf this Disney merger. There were discussions about it before it went through.  I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily wrong, but the fact that Makin was outright about it and very transparent about what was going on in these merger negotiations and that there were going to be asked to divestitures, it’s different for an assistant attorney general. He’s been very transparent and very open about his views, a structural remedies. For him to talk about that while I was a pending matter was unique. It shed a lot of light on the deal and I think it led to the outcome that we’ve seen today.

Scott:  With the talk of trying to identify where some of these firms may or may not have monopoly power on, it seems like we consistently ignore the presence of competitors outside the US. For most of these big companies, they have a direct analog in China, Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent. Does that mean, does that come up in any of these, any of these discussions or when you’ve talked to antitrust officials, how do they think about these other firms? Do they view it as a different world?

Victoria:  It’s interesting they bring that up because I’m thinking to Sprint/T-Mobile specifically, we’re looking at the telecom companies, there are two of the major wireless providers there are premising their merger on the same claims as T-Mobile/Sprint are that if you want to approval of merger from Chinese antitrust authorities, we will bring about 5G faster. Analysts have told me that specifically if that actually gets a green light by Chinese antitrust authorities and that is a very big win for Sprint and T-Mobile. Potentially, because it shows that China believes that merging these two companies will bring about 5G faster, and especially with the Trump administration is a very politicized issue and it’s one that I personally can see if Trump catches wind of this and potentially sees, would like he saw in Sinclair and Tribune to a pushback from DOJ on it.

Victoria:  If he can. He’s very adamant about 5G and he could be on Twitter, expressing these views of the Sprint/T-Mobile deal goes through because we don’t want China winning the 5G battle we want the US to win. With issues that are very analogous to what we were seeing in the US, like Sprint/T-Mobile, that’s when we’ll see more antitrust scholars, back to what we were seeing abroad. But for the most part, most antitrust scholars I’m talking to and antitrust attorneys are just thinking about how US companies are dealing with different antitrust regimes abroad and what we’re seeing the issues there in the main sticking points. If nationalistic companies are given more leeway in certain regimes and others and therefore US companies are not giving as strong of a foothold because they’re giving antitrust scrutiny more so abroad than they are here in the US.

Victoria:  But they don’t think about like Alibaba is a competitor to Amazon potentially. In the discussions I’ve had that hasn’t really come up so much. I think so, you know, when you see these, these big, uh, antitrust EU actions against US companies, that’s where we see kind of a sticking point. Is it American companies that are catching the bad rep here in the EU and you know, we see these analogous as you drawn out with, with other countries abroad, they have an EU presence. I think that remains to be seen, but it’s a topic of discussion that I think a lot of people have their eye out on because that’s been a big sticking points. Are you regulators targeting US companies or are they just taking a very broad approach against market dominance and large companies having more of fiduciary duty to make sure there’s, have broad market competition, and, but is that focus a lot for companies all over the EU and not just a US based company? It’s a topic, but I haven’t really delved into it much with, with the scholars I’ve talked to so far.

Sarah:  In antitrust journalism. it seems like other issues can come in and out of the conversation, like privacy, wage growth, inequality, innovation, economic growth. Sometimes those other topics can come into the antitrust discussion or generalist journalists and tech journalists might want to enter into antitrust journalism in order to talk about those issues. How does that affect your job as an antitrust specialist? Were these other issues might come into your scope or were other journalists try and enter antitrust land? How do you see that boundary in your reporting?

Victoria:  I think it’s going to come up even more so now that the FTC has Lina Khan, the author of the Amazon Antitrust Paradox. She’s working for FTC now and her big premise is that the large companies are driving wage inequality. They are driving these big social issues that we’re seeing now. But for me as an antitrust journalist, I’ve seen more and more of these narratives bleed into what I’m writing about, but I’m also having to be cognizant of, specifically what the DOJ is saying about antitrust. Is it a tool that is meant to regulate markets and if we want to ensure wage growth and wage and social equality, is antitrust the right tool? We need to look at different measures outside that scope. When I approach these issues, I kind of weigh those concerns, but I don’t attach them to thinking that is going on currently in the antitrust enforcement world because that’s one that they’re definitely pushing back on. It’s a give and take matter and I just see it bleeding more into the work I do because kind of the FTC, Lina Khan, that’s her main talking points.

Scott:  When there’s a staffer for a commissioner, do you view that as the person working for the FTC? For the commissioner?

Victoria:  She works for Commissioner Chopra. So as of right now, from what I can see, she’s specifically working for Commissioner Chopra. She helped draft a lot of positions for the FTC Commissioner. I don’t see murmurs of her work as much, entering into that. But it’s definitely a driving force in what Rohit Chopra is thinking so far. I think so far the hearings, he’s been a very outspoken individual and overall, I think he’s very vocal in this field more so than maybe the other Commissioners have been thus far. I just see that wall. Her views don’t reflect the Commission as a whole and he’s being very open and transparent.

Scott:  Switching gears, when you talk to people about 5G now, the competitive aspects of it, the discussions always focused specifically on 5G as 5G as its own market because somehow 5G has been attached to this hype about its benefits for economic growth and blah, blah blah. It seems like there are different ways to think about it. One is, if it helps wireless become a better competitor to wireline, then that will have implications for us that the entire broadband market wouldn’t be an argument or at least help on argument for T-Mobile/Sprint merger because it would mean that there were more competitors. Somehow makes it less exciting as an actual innovation. Right? I guess it’s two questions. One is, how has wireless been so successful at making this seem like such a huge deal and then does it ever get put together with the rest of the program?

Victoria:  I agree with what you’ve said that 5G in terms of innovation maybe not as get as much of a level opposite is when it’s attached to this very noteworthy issues. The heads of Sprint and T-Mobile have done a very good job and messaging earlier this year and just in their rollout of 5G. Even before they announced their merger, I thought been a huge issue with there’s just this narrative that it’s a race against the US and every other large wireless player, and which country in the world will bring it about faster because of 5G. What gets lost in that narrative is, all the benefits it brings with it because we just see it’s a necessity to have this 5G. But there are so many infrastructural benefits to it and internet of things and all this connectivity that I think gets lost in that translation a little bit.

I’m interested to see how, (especially tomorrow there’s a whole 5G conference at Axios  with Makin Delrahim and the EU commissioner), about, how the narrative will be housed 5G and competition policy interacting with each other in their paths. It’ll be interesting to see how it is talked about from an US and EU perspective, because I think for right now the big narrative has been China and US on 5G.  I don’t think we’ve seen as much European conversations about their growth and bring it about 5G. I’m interested to see what the EU thinking about in terms of competition issues in 5G. It’s definitely been interesting to see how this issue has veered in certain directions versus others.

Scott:  Great. I’m not sure I know exactly. I’m not sure that framing it as this national race is even the right way to think about it. Back when it was 1G, and there was a question of GSM versus other standards. Europe took one approach and we took a completely other one which was a mix of standards and can we say that one approach is necessarily better than the other. There’s been a lot of debate about that. CDMA won the race. But at that time, no one knew.

Sarah:  That brings us to market definition. We’ve been discussing here and whether for regulators, is market definition important or not. Different scholars say yes and no. But it seems like for platforms and multiproduct firms, defining the market will be even more important than ever. What have you heard lately on market definition in terms of like the big tech companies, wireless versus wireline, or hospitals, or the granularity by which you define a market, local or global, matters for antitrust enforcement. What are your thoughts about market definition?

Victoria:  Specifically going back to this whole Facebook, Instagram question, are they censoring conservative platforms? One of the key issues if you wanted to bring it on under antitrust concerns as who is the dominant market player in the social media space? It’s very hard to find out who that is because there so many.  Are Facebook or Instagram dominant, there’s just different. It’s very hard to find that market because they kind of bleed into one another. They’re all different from one another. Is Google more of a dominant platform than Facebook? You can’t. The market is not very defined there. So I think, but we’ll see more and more questions. If we want to continue to wave the wand of antitrust than we’ll have to define it further, hone in these markets, actually use that tool.

That’s one I think that the Antitrust Division especially is trying to weight away from because it gets kind of messy trying to move away from it. They’re trying to move away from what we’re using antitrust as you move away from it as the end all be all for you know, why we’re seeing higher rates of market concentration. It’s just very hard to find it, especially with tech platforms. It just gets very concentrated, very in the weeds of how we can actually bring about antitrust concerns because there is no way to really define some of these markets because they’re not, black and white, they’re not straight cut.

Scott:  If I can move off of these big topics for a second, I’m wondering why you would want to become a journalist because it’s such a difficult industry. Within that, why antitrust.  For us [economists] it seems natural, of course you’d want to cover antitrust, but most people don’t think that way. So how did that all that happened?

Victoria:  Sometime I still ask myself why I’m a journalist, but for me, I really love being a journalist because I feel like I’m in school every day. I love school, I love college. It’s interesting to see issues evolve and take new forms, especially in the antitrust scope. Especially within the past few months now. I was specifically drawn to antitrust in a course I took in college on media consolidation in the media industry and that, to me it was just fascinating thinking, oh my gosh, my views and how I am approaching the world and the lens is controlled by a select handful of companies and to think that it was only a select handful of CEOs running that company and they have views that are infiltrating our programming potentially.

That led me to the media world as something I’m really interested in. In tech platforms, but also seeing how infrastructure wise, in the less not as much a noteworthy media headlines. We saw the FTC block the Pinnacle-ConAgra merger in the food market. That doesn’t get as much media play. But it’s interesting because that affects your grocery aisles and things like that. For me, I really like antitrust because I can go down the aisle of the store or I can browse the library or browse a slew of Netflix options and think about all the backstory that went into what I’m seeing now as a consumer and what led to this point where I’m seeing AT&T/Time Warner merger and how is that going to affect what I watch on Game of Thrones with HBO in the next coming months is that can actually be something that I will see different programming content there.

I just love [following the media industry]. I think it’s just fascinating. I don’t know why I got hooked on it. It was just one, it was one course in college that really got me into it.

Scott:   So what do you think about media consolidation now?

Victoria:  I’m going to a hearing on it today at 3:00 PM on the Hill and it’s just interesting. What’s so interesting about it, the AT&T/Time Warner merger that went through, it’s on appeal and the whole premise of that is we need to compete against the likes of Netflix. We need to compete against these streaming services. I’m really amazed by how large media conglomerates that we’ve known for 20 plus years or having to react now to these streaming services and how, they’re pretty much at their knees now with these new technology platforms, which 10 years ago did not have as much market power as they do now.  Seeing that evolve to a form of we’re seeing ISP is controlling content more and more, other than Comcast and NBC. It’s fascinating because we’re seeing the media industry consolidate truly in terms of its distribution channels and how much is that really going to impact our bill to how we actually are perceiving content and seeing that develop. I think it’s really interesting because I feel like these vertical mergers that we’re seeing in the media space really impact us in ways we may not realize now, but we’ll see in 20 years from now or 15 years from now.

Scott:  It’s hard to say hypothetically because every market is different, but does that mean you’re sort of inclined to think that more vertical mergers are not, are not good and that these companies actually don’t need them either upstream or downstream depending on which way they start in order to continue and grow.

Victoria:  I just think the whole idea of market leverage, how that will play out with these, with these vertical tie ups is extremely interesting. Will we see a higher cable bill? But the idea of content exclusivity, like, Time Warner content, how much more we have to pay for that. I don’t necessarily think vertical mergers in every space are wrong, but in the media space, there’s just so many more implications to it that we just haven’t fully realized yet. It’s interesting to see when we will start realizing those implications? I think it’s going happen even more so as more and more companies are reacting to the growing threat of Netflix and Hulu and other entities like that.

Scott:  What about in the news space? For a while, I guess it’s been the case, at least the various work that I’ve read that national and international news is doing okay. There’s a lot of coverage of it. It is state and local news that is decimated. Is that partly a function of merger or is that just a different phenomenon?

Victoria:  I’d say it’s both, especially in the US media culture we saw recently with AT&T/Time Warner, or Time magazine being bought out by I’m CEO of Salesforce, and the Washington Post is owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Internet and these companies led to the kind of pain points we’re having now in the media space, but at the same time they’re giving us the lifeline, a monetary lifeline that is desperately needed, but they cut our advertising. So, it’s a give and take. It’s just interesting to see how this will all play out. The big thing is, will we not see coverage of Amazon as critical on certain platforms, as on Washington Post because it’s owned by Jeff Besos? I don’t think that’s definitely hasn’t been the case yet, but that’s always a thought in the back of a lot of people’s minds.

It’s just interesting to see how an industry that took away advertising dollars for news has also been one that’s extended his hand and bought out these companies and have really propelled it forward, um, in ways but also to the detriment of state and local news that we’ve seen just growing cut of those, of those outlets. It’s a shame. It goes back to advertising, they just don’t have enough that now it’s on national platforms on Google that are swiping up those dollars and wait until the detriment of those. We’re not seeing smaller companies being bought out by these large tech companies. It’s the Atlantic, Time, Washington Post, these big national media companies are being bought out.

Scott:  That’s a really interesting point. One of the things that people say, some people contend is a problem, is that Facebook or Google will buy up a small firm that they see as a potential competitor and of course the response to that as companies enter the market because they hope to be brought up someday. Then there’s the argument between those two sides. But you’re saying that that the market for sort of small, local news firms doesn’t really even exist. Is that right?

Victoria:  From the national narratives we’ve seen played out in the media. We don’t see these stories coming out where Jeff Bezos is buying the Denver Post, for example, or you see examples where smaller markets can have more of a chance of having a downfall because of the downturn of advertising that larger companies, the larger media companies, because the people line up for them or line up for these larger media companies more so than they are for the smaller one.

Scott:  The local news media just gets absorbed into the national one. Doesn’t remain a local, a separate local market more or less. Yeah. Do you have to worry about that for your own career in the future?

Victoria:  I mean, not local news particularly, but the state of the industry, you know, where I am right now, there’s lots of job postings which is always reassuring. But in there is the definite narrative, you know, news is being cut. We saw the New York Post recently that entire news room being slashed and of that nature. It’s a concern in my mind. There are so many other skills you learn in the media industry that you can, if you had to work outside in journalism, you could work in PR and things like that, but I always think there’s going to be a need for antitrust journalism. For example, a really niche industry focused DC-focused journalism that appeals to lawyers behind their desks and appeals to DOJ FTC commissioners who are reading this and want to see what other antitrust attorneys were saying. I think there’s always going to be a market for that content. My work probably doesn’t reach the average consumer, but it definitely reaches a lot of policy folks in DC. I think there will always be that drive for that.

Scott:  As you’ve sort of covered these issues, do you find yourself pulled in different directions? Like thinking, Oh, I need to learn more and more about antitrust, or do you think, I really want to learn more about this industry and do business reporting? Or here are these particular people who are involved, so I need to learn more about politics. Do you find yourself getting pulled in different directions or do you want to go more in depth, deeper and deeper into antitrust?

Victoria:  The beauty of antitrust is I think it bleeds into so many different areas and the same time, I can be very tech focused one day, one week if there’s a whole hearing on tech and the next week I can become really good at following mergers in the cement industry for example. It can go either way. With all of that you’re having to learn, what different senators are saying, like, what Senator Klobuchar saying, learning her background on that and other topics, as a reporter covering one issue on the hill. I’m covering like 20 pending mergers that senator on the Hill may have an opinion on, but that the DOJ and FTC have different opinions on. So I go across DC all over the place because there’s a lot of people when they catch wind of issues, we really want to cover what they’re thinking and their viewpoints. It’s interesting.

Sarah:  One last question, you also cover corporate crime, white collar, SEC-type coverage. I thought that was interesting. Any anecdotes? What have you covered recently for white collar?

Victoria:  I specifically cover the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the FCPA.  The DOJ and the SEC kind of share jurisdiction with that.  DOJ can prosecute criminally while the SEC can only prosecute in civil matters. And with that you’re dealing with issues where you’re having US-based firms or firms abroad that have US stocks, or are on the US stock exchange, that are involved in a bribery scheme abroad.

Victoria:  There’s the thing that’s tricky with these issues.  Microsoft is a case I recently reported on where the DOJ is investigating potential bribery allegations with software third party dealers in Europe. But what’s most likely is that this is an extension of a nearly five year probe because these cases take years because they are so document heavy, the US has to work with different jurisdictions abroad to bring about these cases. When they brought forth they are very salacious. We’re also expecting like a huge Walmart case with Mexico anytime now, but it’s been, I think almost eight years since it was first uncovered. These cases are interesting. They take forever and they bring out millions and, almost billions of dollars in fines every year, but they are, they’re a slog. So, it’s interesting to see when it comes forth, but it’s a hit or miss sometimes with that beat. Antitrust is kind of more my more current up-to-date beat.

Scott:  So you’re not meeting laws in a dark garages for FCPA stories?

Sarah:  How about the data breach settlement that Uber signed with state AGs, it was some $140 million dollars. I thought that was a big number, but there needs to be deterrence and just I recently read a headline that senators are trying to get executive punishment, like some sort of criminal penalties for not reporting data, and trying to put some more leverage on, on that for executives to enforce those laws better.

Victoria:  I didn’t cover the data breach, but the entire idea of executive punishment, to hold a higher scrutiny with any sort of matter is a huge issue. Especially with FCPA matters, I covered the Yates memo where individuals might be prosecuted, and held liable. I’m seeing that how it’s going to play out with Sally Yates not being there. There’s still discussion of it and still a sticking point that the DOJ and SEC have said that they want to hold themselves to. But how often are we going to see that come out?

Actually this coming Friday, we’ll see the sentencing of BumbleBee executives and a price fixing case between different tuna manufacturers now, not as salacious as other issues, but that’s one case where we see executives being held culpable for their actions.

Scott:   It’s an example like we were talking about earlier, doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was just everyday people in grocery stores who paid a little bit more and that’s all it does.

Victoria:  That was tacit collusion from their email chains. Just when will we uncover another scenario like that? We’ll see.

Scott:  Thank you so much for joining us. Really interesting. Hopefully we’ll talk to you again soon.

Victoria:   Perfect. Sounds great. Thanks.

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