Leader Who Rebuilt Time Warner Empire Prepares an Exit

In his understated manner, Mr. Bewkes said he was not worried about the White House interfering in the deal. “I know people say things like that,” he said in an interview last week. “I don’t think it is true.”

Mr. Bewkes said that the review of the proposed merger was an antitrust analysis of whether the combination would enhance or harm competition, and that Time Warner’s programming — including CNN’s aggressive reporting on Mr. Trump — was not relevant.

Still, Mr. Trump’s hostility toward CNN has thrust the network into the spotlight as the review of the deal continues. The issue of CNN’s editorial independence arose late last month at a dinner Mr. Bewkes attended with AT&T board members in Dallas.

As Mr. Bewkes was providing a rundown of Time Warner’s divisions, he said, he was asked about CNN, which had just made news by retracting a story about Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump confidant who is now the president’s communications director. Three journalists who worked on the story were ultimately forced to resign. He defended that decision, and told board members the network’s independence was “sacred.”

If Time Warner is folded into AT&T, it will mark the end of an era, for both an executive who rose through the corporate ranks after starting as an HBO staff member in 1979 — using a stack of boxes as a desk — and a media conglomerate. Over the past century, dating to its roots in Time Inc., the company ushered in a series of innovations, including the first weekly magazine in the United States, the first talking feature film, the first premium cable network, the first 24-hour news network and, on Mr. Bewkes’s watch, a push toward video-on-demand and other digital offerings.

“It is the legacy that I have been the steward of,” Mr. Bewkes, 65, said. “That is why we thought, ‘We have got to do the next step.’”

In an industry filled with larger-than-life executives, driven to expand their empires, Mr. Bewkes developed a reputation as a cerebral, private figure with a dry sense of humor, who was focused on creating value for investors. He did so by spinning off Time Warner Cable in 2009, AOL the same year and the Time Inc. magazine division in 2014.

What was left was a focused TV and film company. Mr. Bewkes invested in ambitious programming, including original series on HBO like “Game of Thrones,” sports deals like the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament and big bets on…

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