“2016” Vs. “SEAL Team Six”: Cable in the Campaign Crosshairs

On Tuesday came word that a cable provider was offering subscribers free on-demand access to the runaway documentary hit “2016: Obama’s America,” an unflattering portrait of the president, to say the least. Armstrong Cable is going to be offering access to the documentary, released in theaters last summer, in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. As the Grio reports, the chairman of Armstrong Cable is a contributor to Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Meanwhile, the New York Times fills in details about National Geographic Channels plans to show ‘SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” just two days before the election. Harvey Weinstein, a major Obama bundler, bought the rights to the film at Cannes and suggested that some moments of the president be added to the film. The director insists that there were plans for clips of the president from the start, but like the feature version of the story of the hunt for bin Laden, there is bound to be criticism that there is a political motivation behind the release. The feature, “Zero Dark Thirty,” was originally scheduled to be released this month but was moved to December after controversy over access given to the filmmakers, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, and whether distribution plans were an effort to boost Obama’s reelection prospects. The film’s distributor is Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Obama staged his first major reelection Los Angeles fundraiser on the studio lot in April, 2011.

What to watch for is not necessarily the movies themselves — which may struggle to find an audience in the cable universe — but the ads that promote the projects. While it may be a stretch to see “SEAL Team Six” as electioneering, more of a case can be made that “2016” is. And that was what the Citizens United case was all about. David Bossie, the maker of an anti-Hillary Clinton documentary, sought to run it on cable, but more importantly, to advertise the project within 30 days of a primary election. The Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision freed him — as well as other filmmakers — to do so without worry that their projects will be slapped with Federal Election Commission fines.

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