Two proposed television programs about the life of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) to be aired on CNN and NBC have stirred controversy among members of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Months before the release of the films, the RNC announced during its summer meeting in Boston that it won’t allow NBC news and CNN to partner with the organization in hosting the 2016 presidential primary debates, accusing the stations of providing support for Clinton.
“We’re done putting up with this nonsense,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said ahead of the vote. “There are plenty of other outlets. We’ll still reach voters, maybe more voters. But CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks.”
The combative rhetoric more than two years before the first presidential primary could signal Republican fears of a Clinton run for office. Regardless of the final outcome, dual Republican-Democratic control of the Commission for Presidential debates will ensure that both major parties control the major airwaves, shutting out third party contenders supported by millions of Americans from having a say in major televised debates.
Will Hillary even run?
Here’s where the controversy begins: NBC Entertainment recently announced plans to produce a biographical film about Clinton to air in 2015, while CNN’s documentary division is also producing a biopic about her slated to run sometime in 2014. The RNC responded during its recent summer meeting in Boston, Mass. by banning the two stations from its 2016 debates.
Critics believe that Republicans may have jumped the gun when it comes to criticizing two unreleased television programs about Clinton and her political career. What is clear is that the GOP resolution is based upon two unproven predictions.
First, the RNC resolution begins with an unfounded rumor, stating, “Whereas former Secretary [of State] Hillary Clinton is likely to run for President in 2016…” Clinton has not publicly announced whether she will run for President, although there is speculation that she would be a among the favorites to win if she chooses to run.
GOP leaders may already view Clinton as a serious threat in 2016 based upon early polling. According to a July 2013 McClatchy-Marist poll, 63 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters said they would vote for the former New York Senator. The same poll found that among all potential voters, 48 percent would support Clinton compared with 41 percent support for Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The resolution then takes another big leap by calling the coverage, which has yet to be released, “little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary [of State] Clinton.” The content of the planned programming has not been announced and it remains to be seen whether coverage will be biased.
CNN responded to the Republican announcement in a statement, saying, “The project is in the very early stages of development, months from completion, with most of the reporting and interviewing yet 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,” CNN added. “Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that.”
So little is known about the television programs, though Fox news, a favored outlet for millions of Republican supporters, may end up getting a slice of the biopic action. Leslie Oren, a spokesman for FTVS, as the Fox studio is known, confirmed in a New York Times report that NBC is in “the early stages” of discussions to bring in Fox as the production company on the yet-to-be-named Hillary Clinton miniseries.
Controlling the debate
The Clinton saga only tells part of the story when it comes to controlling the message during debate season. Regardless of the final outcome, it’s The Commission on Presidential Debates that will be the true arbiter of who gets airtime during the presidential debates.
Because the Commission is dominated exclusively by Democrats and Republicans, many independents and third party supporters claim that the Commission is responsible for controlling the stage of debate by creating a political duopoly in Washington that shuts out third party candidates from the regular nationally televised debates. Third party candidates have seldom taken the same stage as Republicans and Democrats during nationally televised debates.
“For a quarter of a century, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has been run by consummate insiders; the current co-chairs are former Republican National Committee head Frank Fahrenkopf, now president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, and former Bill Clinton White House spokesman Mike McCurry, in recent years one of DC’s most ardent defenders of the telecommunications industry,” writes John Nichols for the Nation.
“The commission has always relied on corporate funding from the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Philip Morris, Prudential, AT&T and the International Bottled Water Association,” Nichols writes.
Collectively, third parties typically only get a sliver of public support, lagging far behind the Democrats and Republicans. It may surprise some to learn that there were actually more than 2 million Americans who cast votes for one of the third party candidates in the 2012 race. Among the top finishers among third party candidates were: Gary Johnson and James Gray (Libertarian Party) with 1,275,951 votes, Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala (Green Party) with 469,583 votes, while Virgil Goode and Jim Clymer (Constitution Party) received 122,001 votes.
Former CNN reporter Larry King moderated a separate televised debate for third party candidates aired on Russia Today and C-SPAN.
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