Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says the party has to “control the referees that we bring into our playground” — the Republican primary debates ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Those referees, he says, shouldn’t be producing documentaries hailing Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, while they’re also orchestrating debates among Republicans.
“I’m not going to sit around and let this happen anymore,” he said. The Republican National Committee has announced it will not allow CNN and NBC to hold primary debates unless the networks pulls their production of films they’re planning about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. “It doesn’t matter if the films are love letters to Hillary,” Priebus said, because, regardless, the networks aren’t ”in the business of doing anything but promoting the Democratic party” (host Sean Hannity had contended the productions would indeed be “love letters”).
Priebus argued that he’s simply doing the same thing to manage his party’s brand that the DNC did when it prevented Fox News from holding a 2008 debate, and lamented how the 2012 Republican-primary debates had gone. The candidates were faced, he said, with “a bunch of moderators who are in the business of making news at the expense of our party and candidates” by presenting “ridiculous hypotheticals that are never going to be reality,” meaning the candidates ultimately “sliced and diced each other.”
The case against CNN and MSNBC is stronger than Preibus even says. Both networks are set to produce and air what will probably amount to hagiographies of Hillary Clinton. To the extent that they’ll cover any of her scandals — Whitewater, Vince Foster, the travel office firings, Benghazi, “sniper fire” and on and on — they’ll probably cover them from her point of view. In 2008, when the DNC banned Fox from hosting debates, there was no single cause. The Democrats acted out of blanket ideological hostility to the network. Really, they simply feared that the network’s moderators would ask them pointed questions that hosts from the other cable nets would avoid. So they avoided Fox and got away with it.
The problem for the Republicans, as always, is what the rest of the media will do if the RNC actually bans any networks. The Democrats largely got a pass from the media. There were objections from quarters outside Fox, but they weren’t sustained. Republicans can expect to take a beating on both CNN and MSNBC, the latter mattering little as its audience shrinks and becomes a self-selecting slice of the hard left. But the New York Times, Bezos Post, and the rest of the drive-by media will hammer the Republicans relentlessly. Count on that.
As long as the RNC is ready for that reality, banning networks that intend to promote the Democrats’ likely candidate ahead of the election makes sense. It would be foolish to pretend that the “documentaries” don’t have a purpose and won’t make a difference.