NBC is producing a fictionalized account of Hillary Clinton, starring Diane Lane, CNN is planning to air a feature-length documentary on the life of the former secretary of state, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is not happy. In fact, he has resorted to blackmailing the networks in an attempt to delay the airing. But his toothless ultimatum to CNN and NBC reveals that he still does not have what it takes to lead a national party.
Priebus sent a letter to NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt and CNN President Jeff Zucker stating that the GOP “will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor” if the networks do not acquiesce to his demands by the time the RNC convenes its meeting scheduled for August 14.
This latest stunt to stir up the conservative base could fall flat on its face just like every other national initiative spearheaded by Priebus. The weak point in the hollow ultimatum is the fact that NBC and CNN do not have a vested interest in caving into threats. The ultimatum also reveals that the GOP is so fearful of a Clinton candidacy that they are taking a preemptive strike against a production that hasn’t even begun filming.
There is no logical, political, or financial reason for NBC or CNN to adhere to Priebus’ blackmail attempt. First of all, the Clinton programming would certainly generate better ratings than any GOP event. Secondly, GOP candidates would certainly not agree to being shut off from a major network and a major cable news channel. Finally, it would only raise the profile of the networks and create a wedge between the party and the media.
Major news outlets would undoubtedly come to the support of the two networks out of concern that this would be precedent setting. It would generate so much media attention that it would be hard for any GOP candidate to talk about anything other than the attempted blackmail and subsequent lockout. Not to mention, Fox hasn’t given the RNC their blessing to pursue such a dangerous tactic. Everyone knows that if Fox doesn’t approve of the communication strategy then it will not be endorsed by the conservative base and therefore the RNC would be alone fighting a losing battle.
The RNC hasn’t been particularly effective under Priebus’ leadership and this is just another example of his failed leadership. In 2012, the GOP lost ground in both the Senate and the House under his leadership and Romney lost an embarrassing presidential election. The RNC post-election blueprint for success, “Growth and Opportunity” was roundly dismissed by conservatives and Tea Party republicans all across America and Priebus couldn’t deliver his home state of Wisconsin for Romney, even with native son Paul Ryan on the ticket and a Republican Governor Scott Walker in the statehouse.
Now, Priebus’ concern seems to revolve around the fact that Clinton remains the strongest candidate out there for 2016. Her approval ratings remain strong despite the GOP and conservative movements' attempt to blame her for the attacks on the Benghazi consulate. She would be the first woman with a legitimate chance at being president and the nation would likely rally to that historical moment in the same way they rallied to make Obama the first black president. In addition, the GOP would not want to take on a motivated Bill Clinton, especially after he was largely considered the tipping point that convinced progressives to stay with Obama.
Interestingly enough, last year, CNN aired a favorable documentary, "Romney Revealed: Family, Faith and the Road to Power" right before the general, and I don’t recall Priebus having a problem with that.
In an email to The Hollywood Reporter, NBC responded to the blackmail attempt, saying, “NBC Entertainment has many projects in development, and this particular miniseries, which has nothing to do with the NBC News division, is in the very early stages. The script has not been written nor has it been ordered into production. It would be premature to draw any conclusions or make any assumptions about it at this time."
Addressing the deficiencies in its national strategy, the RNC Growth and Opportunity project stated, “It is time to smartly change course, modernize the party, and learn once again how to appeal to more people.” Threatening to lock out two major news carriers during the election season doesn’t seem smart, modern, and definitely won’t appeal to most people.