GOP Blasts CNN, NBC for Clinton Programs
By Neil King Jr.
Updated with comment from CNN.
The national Republican Party is hopping mad over plans afoot at two major TV networks to lavish attention on former secretary of state—and presumed 2016 presidential candidate—Hillary Clinton.
In letters to CNN and NBC, the chairman of the Republican National Committee,Reince Priebus, threatened to bar both the networks from any 2016 presidential debates if they move ahead with plans to air special programs devoted to Ms. Clinton’s career.
NBC is in the early stages of casting a four-hour miniseries on the life of the former first lady starring Diane Lane, while CNN’s film division, CNN Film, is working on a feature-length documentary film about her.
NBC has said it plans to run the miniseries before the 2016 campaign gets underway. CNN plans to show the film in theaters next year. Campaign finance laws would complicate matters if the networks wait too long, as finance rules could require equal time for any Clinton presidential competitor.
In his letters to CNN president Jeff Zucker and NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt, Mr. Priebus said many Americans “are astounded at your actions, which appear to be a major network’s thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential contest.”
Mr. Priebus said the NBC miniseries would amount to “an extended commercial for Secretary Clinton’s nascent campaign” while the CNN film would amount to an “in-kind contribution.”
If the networks don’t pull the programming, Mr. Priebus said in the letters that he would push at next week’s RNC meeting for a binding vote putting on record that the committee won’t partner with either network in any 2016 primary debates.
In reality, candidates from either party have wide latitude to accept debate invitations as they please, and the two parties have limited leverage over the process, election lawyers say.
In the letter, Mr. Priebus acknowledges that the networks can do as they please. “You have every right to air programming of your choice,” he wrote.
The state parties, however, have greater leverage over the assignment of debate leading up to primaries in their states. South Carolina GOP Chairman Matt Moore jumped on board the RNC threat, saying in a statement Monday that the networks “have no business hosting presidential debates in South Carolina unless they stop production.”
South Carolina typically hosts the first primary in the South. The RNC said it expects to receive similar pledges of support from other early primary and caucus states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada.
Neither network responded immediately to requests for comment.
Update: A CNN spokesman said the Clinton documentary will premiere in theaters next year. In a statement, the network made clear it didn’t intend to back down.
“Instead of making premature decisions about a project that is in the very early stages of development and months from completion, we would encourage the members of the Republican National Committee to reserve judgment until they know more,” the CNN statement said. “Should they decide not to participate in debates on CNN, we would find it curious, as limiting their debate participation seems to be the ultimate disservice to voters.
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