Jon Stewart says Apple told him not to interview FTC chair Lina Khan

Jon Stewart has accused Apple of urging him not to interview the United States’ head tech regulator, the Federal Trade Commission chair, Lina Khan, on his erstwhile Apple TV+ show and podcast The Problem with Jon Stewart.

In an interview with Khan on The Daily Show, which Stewart is guest-hosting on Monday nights through the November election, Stewart asked Khan about her office’s pursuit of anti-trust litigation against such major companies as Amazon and Kroger. When the conversation came to the rise of artificial intelligence as backed by major tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft, Stewart told Khan: “I wanted to have you on a podcast, and Apple asked us not to do it.”

“They literally said, ‘Please don’t talk to her’ – having nothing to do with what you do for a living,” he added, to laughs.

“I think they just … they wouldn’t let us do that dumb thing we did in the first act on AI,” he continued, referring to his show’s earlier segment on the perils of AI replacing human labor, which was critical of the technology and several tech CEOs.

“What is that sensitivity? Why are they so afraid to even have these conversations out in the public sphere?” Stewart asked Khan.

Khan replied that the sensitivity “just shows one of the dangers of what happens when you concentrate so much power and so much decision-making in a small number of companies”. She said that, since the founding of the country, “there was a recognition that, in the same way that you need the constitution to create checks and balances in our political sphere, you also needed the anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws to safeguard against concentration of economic power.”

Apple abruptly canceled the eight-episode third season of The Problem with Jon Stewart last October, after tension between Stewart and Apple over which topics would be featured on the show, particularly with regard to China. Stewart balked at being “hamstrung” by Apple, which threatened to cancel the series if they weren’t “aligned” on topics, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Stewart then reportedly walked away from the show rather than cede creative control. Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Though the FTC under Khan, who has drawn bipartisan praise for her dogged pursuit of anti-monopoly action, has not sued Apple, it has targeted other big tech companies such as Amazon, in a landmark anti-trust suit, as well as Google and Microsoft’s forays into artificial intelligence. Joe Biden nominated Khan, who is 35 years old, for the post in part for her public criticism of big tech; while working for a House sub-committee, Khan wrote a 449-page report calling for the breakup of large tech companies, including Apple, that she compared to Gilded Age monopolies.

The US justice department, meanwhile, filed a sprawling anti-trust lawsuit against Apple last month, accusing the company of pursuing a “broad, sustained, and illegal” monopoly of the smartphone market and thwarting innovation to maintain market dominance.

Over the course of the interview, Stewart praised the FTC’s work and asked Khan if big tech companies pressured her office: “How much do they fight whatever regulation you’re trying to put into place to keep them from becoming monopolies?”

Khan replied: “Look, monopolies are not fans of enforcing the anti-monopoly laws, and so that type of pushback is baked in.”

The Guardian