Hillicon Valley: Nexstar to buy Tribune in $4.1B TV deal | Dozens join on to Paris cyber pact | Lawsuit claims Israeli spyware used to track Khashoggi | Mattis says Russia tried to interfere in 2018 midterms | Robot janitors coming to Walmart

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

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MAJOR MEDIA MERGER ALERT: Nexstar Media Group has reached a deal to purchase Tribune Media Company in a $6.4 billion merger that would create the largest local television company in the country.

The two companies announced Monday that Nexstar would be paying about $4.1 billion for Tribune at a rate of $46.50 per share. The announcement comes months after Sinclair Broadcast Group's bid to acquire Tribune failed after regulators blocked it. Perry Sook, Nexstar's CEO, indicated on Monday that he believed this deal had a better shot of clearing regulatory hurdles.

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"We have thoughtfully structured the transaction in a manner that positions the combined entity to better compete in today's rapidly transforming industry landscape and better serve the local communities, consumers and businesses where we operate," Sook said in a statement.

"As with our past transactions, we have developed a comprehensive regulatory compliance plan and believe we have a clear path to closing."

Sook told analysts on a call Monday morning that he had already spoken to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to assure him that the two companies had a plan to comply with regulatory requirements. Nexstar will obtain Tribune's 42 television stations, which reach around 50 million households, plus the cable network WGN America.  

The merger will need to be cleared by both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice.

Read more here.

 

SOME PEOPLE NEVER LEAVE: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisRussia claims Pentagon ignoring request to discuss nuclear dispute Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — Facebook bug exposed photos of up to 6.8M users | Canada warns Trump not to intervene in Huawei case | Tech giant accused of providing cybersecurity to terror groups Canada warns Trump: Huawei extradition shouldn't be ‘politicized’ MORE said Saturday that Russian operatives attempted to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, apparently confirming for the first time that Moscow attempted to meddle in last month's elections.

Mattis spoke of the relationship between the Trump administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin during an interview Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

"There is no doubt the relationship has worsened. He tried again to muck around in our elections this last month," Mattis said. "We are seeing a continued effort around those lines."

Mattis said the Trump administration and other NATO allies have pressed Russia repeatedly on un-democratic actions, but to no avail.

"This is a very complex situation because clearly Mr. Putin is a slow learner," Mattis said. "He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating the animosity against his people."

"We're dealing with someone we simply cannot trust," he added.

Mattis's comments come after President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE canceled a meeting with Putin at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Argentina this week, citing a naval dispute between Ukrainian and Russian forces on the border of Crimea, which raised fears of new hostilities in the region.

Russian officials fired back on Friday, accusing Trump of canceling the meeting due to domestic political troubles for the Trump administration, and not on any actions taken by Russia toward Ukraine.

The cancellation of the meeting came the same day that the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to making misstatements to Congress about Trump's business dealings in Russia, while agreeing to cooperate further with Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's special counsel investigation.

Trump maintained on Friday that the incident in Ukraine was the sole reason for the cancellation of his planned meeting with Putin.

Read more here.

 

ISRAELI SPYWARE UNDER SCRUTINY: A friend of Jamal Khashoggi has reportedly filed a lawsuit against an Israeli software company alleging that its spyware led to the Saudi journalist's death in October.

Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident, claims that he received a text message in June with a link to track a package. He alleges that the firm, the NSO Group, was actually behind the link and by clicking on it Abdulaziz exposed his phone to the firm's spyware, according to The New York Times.

His suit, filed in Israel, is the latest to be filed against the NSO Group, which has been accused of helping governments spy on their citizens.

Abdulaziz, who lives in Canada, also claims that he was communicating with Khashoggi about Saudi opposition projects.

He alleges that the NSO Group's spyware gave the Saudi royal court access to those communications, something he says was a "crucial factor" in the kingdom murdering Khashoggi, The Associated Press reported.

"The spying that was directed against (Abdulaziz) and the disclosure of the content of the conversations and messages between him and Khashoggi through the system contributed significantly to the decision to assassinate Mr. Khashoggi by the assassins at the consulate," the lawsuit reads, according to the AP.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who was a Washington Post columnist, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. The CIA has reportedly determined that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely ordered the killing.

Read more here.

 

WHO DOESN'T LIKE PARIS?: Nearly 100 nations and groups have added their names to an international agreement on actions in cyberspace in the weeks since the document was unveiled.

The "Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace," unveiled by French President Emmanuel Macron during the Paris Peace Forum on Nov. 13, has now earned more than 450 signatories.

Ghana announced Sunday that it would be the latest country to sign onto the agreement. Rwanda and Kenya are also expected to join in the coming days, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.

Microsoft played a leading role in the creation of the cyber agreement, and other prominent tech companies based in the United States like Facebook and Google are among the signatories.

The U.S. has declined to add its name to the list, making it one of a handful of Western countries to distance itself from the document. 

Read more here.

 

TUMBLR SAYS BYE-BYE TO ADULT CONTENT: Tumblr on Monday announced it will ban all adult content from its website, a move that comes just two weeks after it acknowledged child pornography had found its way onto the platform.

The microblogging and social networking site said in a statement that adult content will be not permitted on the platform starting Dec. 17 and that any adult content discovered on that date will be "flagged" and "reverted to a private setting viewable only by you."

Tumblr said the banned content will primarily consist of "photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content--including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations--that depicts sex acts."

The move comes just weeks after Tumblr was kicked out of Apple's App store over issues related to child pornography. Verge reported last month that the Tumblr app hasn't been in the app store since Nov. 16.

Tumblr confirmed on Nov. 20 that it was banned from the store after child pornography was discovered on its site. The company said the explicit images had slipped past its content filters.

"Every image uploaded to Tumblr is scanned against an industry database of known child sexual abuse material, and images that are detected never reach the platform," the company said in a statement last month.

Read more here.

 

ALL CLEAR: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai did not mislead lawmakers about a conversation with the White House counsel over the proposed Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media merger, the agency's watchdog said Monday.

The Office of the Inspector General, which conducted the investigation, said in a statement that its investigation found no evidence that Pai acted improperly by not disclosing the call with former White House Counsel Don McGahn during a July hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — Dems to reframe gun violence as public health issue | Court orders key documents from OxyContin maker unsealed | Pfizer announces stock buybacks Dems to reframe gun violence as public health issue Term limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority MORE (D-N.J.) previously called on the Inspector General to open the investigation, asking the office to look into whether Pai made "material omissions and failed to disclose" the phone call.

Pallone had asked Pai during the July hearing if he would "commit to disclosing" any communications he had with the White House about the proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribune.

Pai revealed to the Senate in August that McGahn had asked him about the status of the merger before the July hearing.

The watchdog found that Pai had not mislead lawmakers at the House hearing and had promised to disclose discussions per the agency's rules.

"We are limited in what information we can receive and what we can put on the record," Pai told Pallone at the hearing. "But consistent with our restricted ex parte rules, we would be happy to accommodate to the extent we can."

Pai in July said that he had serious concerns about the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger, effectively killing the deal. In August, Tribune backed out of the deal and sued Sinclair.

President Trump has been a vocal supporter of Sinclair, a conservative broadcasting group that has pushed positive media coverage of his administration.  

Read more here.

 

CHA-CHING: Amazon on Monday briefly topped the list of Wall Street's most valuable companies, over Apple and Microsoft as the three battle for the top market value.

The trio of tech giants have been hovering around the same market cap for weeks, with Microsoft topping Apple last week for the first time in eight years, Reuters reported.

Amazon rose as much as 5.2 percent at its high on Monday, putting its market capitalization at more than $870 billion. That left the online retailer above Apple's market capitalization of $864.8 billion and Microsoft's $859 billion.

Read more here.

 

HERE COME WALL-E JANITORS: Walmart announced on Monday that it plans to deploy 360 autonomous custodial robots by the end of January that will mop the floors of some of its stores.

The retailer said in a joint statement with developer Brain Corp. that the machines will be able to scrub floors even with customers around. The robots will feature multiple sensors that allow them to scan for people and obstacles.

"BrainOS technology allows robots to effectively and safely function in complex, crowded environments, ensuring increased productivity and efficiency across applications," Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to work alongside Walmart to help build intelligent, connected stores."

Bloomberg first reported on the announcement. The devices resemble a miniature Zamboni, the machine used to resurface ice at ice-skating rinks, and a motorized wheelchair, the news outlet said, and are already in use at airports in Seattle, Boston and Miami.

Read more here.

 

ICYMI OVER THE WEEKEND:

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: So what's the big deal about Mars InSight?

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Inadvertent victims.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Corsi files complaint with DOJ alleging misconduct in Mueller probe. (The Hill)

Scientist who claims gene-editing success is now missing. (South China Morning Post)

Verizon, Samsung to release 5G smartphones in U.S. in 2019 (Reuters)

TikTok is gaining a following. (The New York Times)