Will the networks take the Republican National Committee's threat of a boycott seriously?
Yesterday, Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus sent letters to NBC and CNN, warning them that if they continue to pursue their announced plans to produce movies about the life of Hillary Clinton, "I will seek a binding vote stating that the RNC will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor,” Priebus wrote.
In one another sent to Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, Priebus expressed his "deep disappointment" in NBC's intention to produce a mini-series, and CNN's intention to produced a feature film "ahead of (Clinton’s) likely candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016."
He further insisted that both networks' credibility will be damaged by their intention to “produce an extended commercial for Secretary Clinton’s nascent campaign."
The chairmen of the Republican parties in Iowa and South Carolina, where a number of Republican debates have been held in the past, applauded Priebus's efforts, further contending that they would have support from others within the ranks of the RNC. Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker released a statement saying his organization "looks forward to helping the RNC start a new chapter in how Republicans across the country stand up to a biased media.”
The RNC has also initiated a petition drive, noting that the networks' efforts amount to a "thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election."
Priebus emphasized the hypocrisy of Democrats who complained when conservative political group Citizens United planned to air "Hillary, the Movie," a video-on-demand documentary about Clinton before the Democratic primaries in 2008. That move was initially blocked by the federal government, when courts ruled it violated the provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law regarding campaign financing spending limits. In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned those rulings in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. Members of the Clinton administration also voiced their complaints about a 2006 miniseries "The Path to 9/11" that was eventually aired by ABC after the network altered it in response to those complaints.
Some Clinton movies are more equal than others.
Both CNN and NBC have yet to officially comment on the RNC's demand, but political director Chuck Todd tweeted that NBC's news division had "nothing to do" with the NBC Entertainment project, and CNN spokesperson Allison Gollust told Politico that "CNN's editorial side has no role in the production of the film, just as it has no role in any of the films produced or acquired by CNN Films."
Priebus wasn't buying it. “It’s appalling to know executives at major networks like NBC and CNN who have donated to Democrats and Hillary Clinton have taken it upon themselves to be Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives,” he said in a statement. “Their actions to promote Secretary Clinton are disturbing and disappointing. I hope Americans will question the credibility of these networks and that NBC and CNN will reconsider their partisan actions and cancel these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment."
The amount of those donations were outlined in Priebus's letters. In the letter sent to NBC, Priebus said that the network, including Comcast, its parent company, have been "generous supporters of Democrats and Secretary Clinton.” Priebus noted that Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen raised over $1.4 million for Obama's reelection campaign, and held a fundraiser for the president. Comcast employees also contributed $522,996 to Obama and $161,640 to Clinton's previous campaigns. In his letter to CNN, he contended the upcoming film itself constituted an "in-kind donation" to Clinton’s political campaign, noting that her "two decades in the public eye" undermined the notion that a documentary about her political career "is any sort of public service, or eye-opening journalism on an unknown individual."
Former Obama advisor David Plouffe mocked the RNC's demand in on his Twitter account. "Better RNC debate plan. Held in hermetically sealed Fox studio. Avoid exposing swing voters to Crazy S*#t My Nominee Says," it said. That would be the same David Plouffe who managed to largely avoid the kind of media exposure he should have received for taking a $100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from a company doing business with Iran, about a month before he joined the White House staff.
Moreover, Plouffe has a conveniently short memory. If there is anyone who has benefitted from a hermetically sealed media bubble, it was Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential debates. Due to the RNC's spinelessness, the three debates were moderated by three dedicated leftists, including PBS's Jim Lehrer, CNN's Candy Crowley, and CBS's Bob Schieffer. In the second debate, Crowley sealed Obama off from his lie that he had called Benghazi a terror attack from the beginning, a claim debunked by Obama himself on more than one occasion, and most notably during his speech at the United Nations of September 25, 2012, when he once again referred to the violence being sparked by a "crude and disgusting video." Crowley subsequently admitted she had erred, but the damage had already been done. Furthermore, in all three debates Obama got more time to speak than Romney did.
Thus, Priebus has undertaken an effort, early as it is, to alter that far-too-familiar media trajectory. Yet one is left to wonder if it will indeed succeed. Neither NBC or CNN are likely to be browbeaten into killing movies about Clinton based on the threat the RNC won't be inviting them to cover Republican primary debates. That the companies would risk alienating Clinton supporters and perhaps a number of advertisers as well, based on what Priebus describes in both letters as a "sense of fairness and decency in the political process and your company's reputation," seems quixotic at best. NBC Entertainment chairman Greenblatt has already defended the production of the movie, albeit indirectly, insisting that his network needs to create "event" programming that will draw viewers to the declining arena of broadcast TV. CNN's Jeff Zucker claims his network is unbiased, even as he admitted that its lack of conservative on-air talent "was probably a valid criticism."
Time will tell if Priebus will win this battle. Yet it's about time the RNC did something besides accept the idea that their fate is inevitable. In that regard, Priebus is to be admired. For far too long, the Republican Party's entire agenda has been reactive and defensive. They have allowed Democrats and their media allies to frame every issue. Priebus is indicating he that dynamic to be challenged. Republicans would be fools not to follow his lead.
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