The GOP isn't waiting until 2016 to accuse the media of liberal bias in the next presidential election. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent open letters to NBC and CNN today warning them of a Republican boycott.
The problem? They are both planning to air programs — one a miniseries on NBC starring Diane Lane, the other a documentary on CNN directed by Inside Job's Charles H. Ferguson — about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is leading almost every poll as the top presidential candidate for 2016.
Both programs are planned to run soon, long before Clinton would announce any candidacy, which would clear the networks from violating the FCC's equal-time rule. In the letters, Priebus calls on each network to "cancel this political ad masquerading as an unbiased production."
He then signs off with a threat:
Priebus complains that airing the films would not only be unfair to Republicans, but potential Democratic candidates like Vice President Joe Biden and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"An an American company, you have every right to air programming of your choice," he writes to both networks. "But as American citizens, certainly you recognize why many are astounded by your actions, which appear to be a major network's thinly veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election."
Of course, the two programs could very well be critical of the former first lady. Just look at Primary Colors or the way the media covered Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary, which prompted this memorable SNL sketch.
Could Priebus have any alternative motives besides stamping out "political favoritism"? TIME's Zeke Miller thinks it may be a calculated move to cut down on the number of Republican primary debates.
"Republican Party officials believe the 20 GOP primary debates during the 2012 cycle hurt their party and Mitt Romney," writes Miller, adding:
Reforming the primary debate process has been a central component of the RNC's 2012 autopsy, with party officials trying to restrict the number of debates and screen out unfriendly debate moderators. But the effort to cut back on the number of debates has run into headwinds from Republican state parties in early states, who in many instances see revenue from co-hosting the debates and associated events.
The autopsy recommends changing the RNC rules to include penalties for Republican state parties or candidates if they participate in debates unsanctioned by the RNC... Priebus has previously proposed a more modest 10 to 12 debates, in part to protect better-funded candidates from insurgents who capitalize on their time before the cameras. [TIME]
David Plouffe, one of the architects behind President Barack Obama's two presidential victories, was a little more blunt on the RNC's motives:
Better RNC debate plan. Held in hermetically sealed Fox studio. Avoid exposing swing voters to Crazy S*#t My Nominee Says.— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) August 5, 2013
Other liberals just chalked the move up to standard Republican strategy, which would suggest that the GOP is already very worried about facing Clinton in 2016.
"I think this is just the old, old, old, standby: when in doubt, always bash the neutral media," writes The Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "That's been a Republican play ever since (at least) the days of Spiro Agnew, and it's one of the most successful examples of opinion leadership around."
Priebus, however, sees the lack of outrage by progressives as hypocrisy.
"Liberals complained noisily when Citizens United sought to air a pay-per-view documentary on Hillary Clinton prior to the 2008 election, and yet they're conspicuously silent now that a major news network is planning to air a major documentary of its own," he writes. "They must trust that you're doing her a favor."
Read Priebus' letters to CNN and NBC here.
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