RNC Was Under Pressure to Seize Control of Debates
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared a “major victory” against the mainstream media after CNN and NBC canceled their planned Hillary Clinton projects, but he also gave a reminder of why he so fiercely fought against the documentary and miniseries.
Not only was the RNC campaign against the CNN documentary and NBC miniseries a good way to appeal to base conservatives and raise money, particularly with a potential Clinton presidential candidacy on the horizon, it also gave party officials a means to help rein in what many consider to be an unruly debate process. After the projects were announced, the RNC voted to ban the two networks from sponsorship of presidential debates, exerting early pressure on state party officials and networks who may have their own plans for co-sponsoring such events in the 2016 cycle.
CNN and NBC announced on Monday that they were dropping plans for the Clinton projects, after announcing them with much fanfare over the summer.
In an posting on Breitbart.com, Preibus wrote that “this whole episode is just the first step in the RNC’s efforts to ensure presidential primary debates serve the interests of voters — not the mainstream media.”
“The timing, frequency, moderators and venues will all be part of a new debate model that will come out in the next few months,” he wrote. “Media organizations who want to be part of the debate process will have to comply with the new system. Republicans will set terms for the media — not the other way around. Stunts like the Hillary movies will not be tolerated.” He said they “shamed the networks into changing course.”
A study commissioned by the RNC earlier this year concluded that the 2012 cycle saw too many debates, some of which were marked by embarrassing gaffes and uncomfortable incidents. But they also helped figures who seemed like longshots, like Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain, to have momentary surges.
NBC’s news division argued that it had nothing to do with the entertainment side, which would have been in charge of the Clinton miniseries. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem to matter. Even figures like Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell expressed dismay that the public would not make the distinction. The RNC saw opportunity to claim that the projects were examples of media bias, even if the movies hadn’t even gotten that far off the ground.
CNN said that the RNC was judging a project even before it started. The director, Charles Ferguson, won an Oscar for the Wall Street documentary “Inside Job,” but he wrote at Huffington Post on Monday that he was bowing out of the Clinton project because of a lack of cooperation from Democratic and Republican sources.
Exactly what the “new system” of debates will be is to be announced, but the party effort to exert greater control on the news networks is bound to be contentious. Priebus may have stirred it up to stop a feature length documentary and a miniseries, but it’s a whole other question whether he can stop the debates from resembling a reality show.