The Republican National Committee voted on Friday to punish NBC and CNN for moving forward with movie projects on Hillary Clinton by barring them from 2016 primary debate coverage unless they abandon the projects.
Republican leaders argue media bias as their reason for trying to stop NBC and CNN’s projects on Clinton, but their goal is also to limit and exert more control over presidential primary debates.
An RNC resolution, obtained by Time and Fox and other news outlets, calls on the party to withhold partnership with NBC News and CNN in the presidential primary debates and for the party to refuse to sanction such events. Specific rules for the 2016 cycle are still being written.
NBC is planning a miniseries on Clinton with would star Diane Lane and run in advance of any announcement that the the former secretary of state would make for a White House bid. CNN is planning a documentary on Clinton, to be directed by Charles Ferguson, who won an Oscar for the Wall Street project “Inside Job.”
The party resolution also calls for the RNC to “bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen.” Party leaders have been under pressure to reduce the number of primary debates after a special task force report on the presidential elections called for such a move. There has been a perception that the prospects for Mitt Romney suffered as he was faced attacks from opponents, as the series of forums took on the aura of reality competitions. In coverage, candidate foibles, like Texas Governor Rick Perry’s infamous memory gap, at times overshadowed what was said about the issues.
In other words, RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ attack on two major mainstream outlets at once lays the groundwork for future claims of media bias and gives a rationale for placing limits on the number of debates. Whether he is able to do so is another question, as many debates as cosponsored by state parties.
The resolution characterizes the programming as “an attempt to show political favoritism and put the thumb on the scales for the next presidential election.” It even notes that Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, gave $25,000 to Clinton’s 2008 campaign, $25,000 to President Obama’s 2012 Victory Fund and $10,000 this year to the Democratic National Committee.
But NBC’s news division says that they have nothing to do with the decisions of the entertainment division, even though such personalities as Chuck Todd have wondered whether that distinction will be made in a highly charged political environment.
CNN has asked on the RNC to reserve judgment until their documentary project is completed. It is being produced through its CNN Films unit.
UPDATE 8:55 AM PT – DNC National Press Secretary Michael Czin released the following statement following news of the vote, which read in part, “It seems that Republicans don’t get it. If they truly want to connect with a broader audience, they need an agenda that fights for the middle class and is inclusive. Sadly, it appears that with today’s vote, their approach is to actually speak to even fewer voters.”
A rep for CNN added, “The project is in the very early stages of development, months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done. Therefore speculation about the final program is just that. We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it. Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that.”
UPDATE 11:47 AM PT — NBC News had no comment, but NBC Entertainment said that “this particular miniseries — which has nothing to do with the NBC News division —is in the very early stages. The script has not been written nor has it been ordered to production. It would be premature to draw any conclusions or make any assumptions about it at this time.” The statement seemed to suggest that NBC may still choose not to move forward with the project, announced at the Television Critics Assn. tour last month.
As the chatter about the RNC’s aggressive response built throughout the day, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt reiterated in a statement that the project was far from guaranteed of getting on the air.
“The Hillary Clinton movie has not been ordered to production, only a script is being written at this time. It is ‘in development,’ the first stage of any television series or movie, many of which never go to production. Speculation, demands, and declarations pertaining to something that isn’t created or produced yet seem premature,” he said.