Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus wrote letters to CNN and NBC on Monday announcing that the networks better pull their scheduled films about Hillary Clinton, or they'll lose access to the 2016 Republican primary debates. He expressed "deep disappointment" in the networks' decisions to air films "promoting former Secretary Hillary Clinton ahead of her likely candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016." Whether or not CNN and NBC comply with Priebus's request, the debates will happen, and if 2012 is any indication, garner good ratings for whatever network airs them. There isn't much of a downside for the RNC in trying to get the networks to pull the movies, other than looking a little silly.
CNN's Clinton documentary is coming from the Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Charles H. Ferguson, who got his Oscar for Inside Job, the doc about the financial crisis. NBC will air a four-part miniseries on the former Secretary of State, who'll be played by Diane Lane. Both films will air sometime ahead of the 2016 election.
Priebus wrote that "liberals complained noisily when Citizens United sought to air a pay-per-view documentary about Hillary Clinton prior to the 2008 election." Hillary, The Movie was criticized by a lot of people, including the Federal Elections Commission, for being "electioneering communication," or basically, a really long infomercial. Now, the RNC Twitter account is firing that same language back at CNN and NBC:
Out of sense of fairness and in the interest of the political process, cancel the Hillary infomercials!— RNC (@GOP) August 5, 2013
Priebus wrote that if he doesn't hear from CNN and NBC by the summer RNC meeting on August 14, he will seek a binding vote to bar the Republican party from partnering with the networks or sanctioning debates that they sponsor.
Primary debates have been used as a bargaining chip before. In 2007, Fox News had to cancel a Democratic primary debate after too many of the candidates pulled out in quiet protest of how the network was covering their campaigns. As a result, Fox News only co-sponsored one debate that season.
Update, 4:22 p.m.: CNN has released a statement urging the RNC not to make "premature decisions" about the film which is still in development. "Should [the RNC] 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."
For his part, Priebus does not appear to be joking around. He tweeted Monday,
Ok. If they don't agree, then we will dump and block them from our primary debates. Pretty simple.— Reince Priebus (@Reince) August 5, 2013