Feature

How Democrats killed CNN's Hillary Clinton documentary

The GOP and the Clintons finally agree on something

It looks like CNN is bailing on its documentary about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In early August, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, warned the network to "cancel this political ad masquerading as an unbiased production" — or else risk a Republican boycott.

Priebus targeted both the documentary, initially slated to be directed by Inside Job's Charles Ferguson, and a NBC miniseries about Clinton starring Diane Lane.

This morning, however, CNN Films said it was putting the kibosh on the documentary. The reason? Democrats — especially those in the Clinton camp — wouldn't play ball, Ferguson wrote in The Huffington Post this morning:

The day after the contract was signed, I received a message from Nick Merrill, Hillary Clinton's press secretary. He already knew about the film, and clearly had a source within CNN. He interrogated me; at first I answered, but eventually I stopped. When I requested an off-the-record, private conversation with Mrs. Clinton, Merrill replied that she was busy writing her book, and not speaking to the media.

When I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans — and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. [The Huffington Post]

After the ruckus that Priebus and the RNC raised, it was, in the end, the Democratic establishment who killed this film. As Ferguson noted, CNN's head honcho, Jeff Zucker, didn't cave to Republican pressure. Instead, lack of access doomed the project.

In retrospect, that shouldn't be so surprising. Hillary Clinton is by far the front-runner in both the Democratic primary and general election if she decides to run in 2016.

That position can be a both an advantage and a liability, especially as the media further exhumes the Clintons' skeleton-filled closet. Recent features in both The New York Times and the New Republic focused on what is now called the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and its connection to former Bill Clinton aide Doug Band, who has been criticized for using his Clinton connections to further his corporate consulting firm, Teneo.

As Slate's Josh Voorhees noted, Ferguson hoped "to take a closer look at the role the Clinton administration played in the financial crisis and how the Clintons have gone about amassing their current fortune."

That's not exactly the kind of attention a candidate wants before an election, especially when she is on top. Alec MacGillis, who wrote the New Republic feature, explained to The Washington Post's Erik Wemple why, exactly, he relied on so many anonymous sources in his story:

Anonymity, he claims, is "simply unavoidable in a world that's as locked down as Clintonland is now. It has always been a tough world to penetrate and it's more locked down than ever before. … There's a premium on not causing any drama and not giving any window to any tensions that might be still there under the surface." [The Washington Post]

Priebus might ultimately get everything he was asking for. Not only has the documentary been canceled, but the TV miniseries has been in limbo for over a month, with no sign of moving forward.

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