Last month, NBC announced it will show a four-hour miniseries about Hillary Clinton and CNN Films announced plans for a documentary about her. Today, RNC chair Reince Priebus threatened to freeze those two networks out of any primary or presidential debates if they don’t pull the plug on their Clinton plans.
What’s ironic about this is that Priebus compared what NBC and CNN are doing to what conservative group Citizens United did in 2008, when it tried to show a pay-per-view documentary critical of Hillary Clinton. Priebus complaining that Democrats were up in arms about it back then, but are silent now.
What he doesn’t mention is that back then, what Citizens United was doing was illegal. The McCain-Feingold Act specifically prohibited broadcasts that mention a candidate within 30 days of a primary election, and Citizens United was planning on showing it the night before the primary, thus eliminating any chance for a rebuttal. That case famously went all the way to the Supreme Court, who overturned the law.
So now, the Republicans are complaining about NBC and CNN are doing something that is not illegal. In fact, it would not have been illegal even under the old law (since we are a long way away from any elections, primary or otherwise). And even if it had been illegal, the law was overturned, opening up the floodgates for such broadcasts under the guise of “free speech”. So is the GOP against free speech?
Also, if they freeze out NBC and CNN, where are they going to have their debates? On Fox News, that paragon of impartiality?
I also wonder if Priebus might have motivations of his own for getting some RNC debates off networks. Given that the Republican Party seems no closer than it was in 2012 to reaching a decisive break between its radical and moderate wings, if I were Priebus, I might want to keep that debate between them as far away from mass audiences as possible. Given how far moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney have had to run to the right during their primary campaigns, one of the things that debates do is generate a vast trove of high-quality clips of things that the eventual nominee will eventually have to try to explain away in a shortened general election season. If I were Priebus, I’d want as few of those debates as possible, and I’d want them to happen further from the public eye so my eventual candidate has less baggage that can eventually be hung around her or his neck.