Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, issued strongly-worded letters to the chairman of NBC Entertainment, Robert Greenblatt, and CNN President Jeff Zucker today after both networks announced plans to make and air movies about Hillary Clinton. In them, he lambasts the networks for being unfair to potential Democratic and Republican candidates alike with their plans -- and threatens to keep them from airing any Republican debates in 2016 if they don't shut down the productions.
"[A]s American citizens, certainly you recognize why many 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 election," he wrote to both men. Both letters end with the same threat: "If you have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC's Summer Meeting on August 14[, 2013], I will seek a binding vote of the RNC stating that the committee will neither partner with you in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates which you sponsor."
NBC's miniseries on Hillary, in which the story is said to being during the time period of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Diane Lane is set to star, was announced on July 27, 2013 and is set to air in the fall. CNN's documentary, which they plan to release in theaters before airing on CNN in 2014, is already in pre-production. Both will undoubtedly be better productions than Citizen's United 2008 attempt, "Hillary: The Movie," which -- despite poor reviews -- managed to overturn campaign finance reform and usher in the post-Citizens United era of unlimited, anonymous campaign-related donations.
Priebus referenced the earlier movie in his letters, writing, "Liberals complained noisily when Citizens United sought to air a pay-per-view documentary on Hillary Clinton prior to the 2008 election and yet they're conspicuously silent now [that the miniseries and documentaries are scheduled]."In his letter to CNN, Priebus added, "They must trust that you're doing her a favor."
Preibus' letter to NBC also accused them of timing the miniseries to deliberately subvert to political process. "You company has expressly stated that your choice to air the miniseries in the near future would avoid concerns of running afoul of equal time election laws," he wrote. "This suggests a deliberate attempt at influencing American political opinion in favor a preferred candidate, not to mention a guilty conscience."
Though the debates often preempt networks' original programming and the advertising dollars that popular shows can attract, the threat likely carries more weight for CNN than NBC. Last Thursday, an episode of "Anderson Cooper 360" had only about 518,000 viewers according to Nielsen, while CNN's Republican debates in 2011 and 2012 garnered between 4.7 and 5.4 million viewers. NBC, on the other hand, saw 7.1 million viewers turn in for its January 2012 debate -- roughly equivalent to the number of people who watched a re-run of CBS's "NCIS" last week.
Update: CNN issued the following statement, as published by Huffington Post:
CNN Films, a division of CNN Worldwide, commissioned a documentary about Hillary Clinton earlier this year. It is expected to premiere in 2014 with a theatrical run prior to airing on CNN. This documentary will be a non-fiction look at the life of a former First Lady and Secretary of State. 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. 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.