If he carries through with the threat, it sure seems as if Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus would be shooting his party in the foot. Priebus feels upcoming programming about Hillary Clinton on CNN and NBC will amount to hagiography and an electoral advantage, but he’s being shortsighted on multiple levels.
NBC plans a mini-series starring Diane Lane about the former Secretary of State and possible 2016 presidential candidate. CNN is teeing up a documentary.
Priebus is apoplectic and has written letters to CNN chief Jeff Zucker and NBC entertainment head Robert Greenblatt asking them to pull the programming. If the networks refuse by Aug. 14, Priebus says he’ll seek a vote at an RNC meeting asserting the committee's refusal to work with CNN or NBC to air debates among GOP presidential candidates during the 2016 primary season.
Priebus feels the programs will give Clinton an advantage in a would-be run for the White House. In fairness, he notes that the “special treatment” might hurt Democrats competing against her as well as Republicans. In both letters, he calls the programs an “extended commercial” for a Clinton 2016 run and “political ad masquerading as an unbiased production”.
But pulling debates off an NBC or CNN seems exceedingly self-defeating. First, the RNC should want its candidates to get as much exposure as possible early on, so the eventual nominee has wind at his or her back during the general campaign. Loading up on Fox News debates might help Republicans select a nominee, but fail to give the eventual candidate much lift with swing voters.
CNN might offer more exposure to Regan Democrats and moderates, while NBC would offer a broadcast platform with wide reach. (The CNN documentary set for next year will run in theaters first.)
Priebus might have benefited from a media primer. NBC is producing the mini-series as an entertainment initiative. So, writing to Greenblatt seems misguided. A letter to a news executive with the no-debate threat would make more sense, even though NBC News is unlikely to buckle. It issued a statement saying it has no involvement in the project.
CNN said in a statement the RNC should hold off on its take on its program until the committee members know more about its content.
Priebus doesn’t seem to comprehend that the TV business is about ratings first and most. Even Roger Ailes might prefer higher ratings if it meant deviating a bit from a preferred hard-right stance.
The stuff in the Clinton programming that’s going to draw viewers isn’t about how she conducted a successful listening tour in New York before being elected to the Senate or how she cut breakthrough treaties as Secretary of State. It’s the Rose Law Firm, Whitewater, Monica, losing to Obama and Benghazi. A heavy focus on those, particularly Benghazi, might thrill Priebus and have his Democratic National Committee counterpart writing letters.