By Michael McGough
8:39 PM EDT, August 8, 2013
I never saw “Hillary: The Movie,” the unflattering documentary that launched a thousand legal briefs when its producers rightly challenged the notion that it was an “electioneering communication” under federal election law.
I’m much more likely to watch two other films about Hillary Rodham Clinton now in the works: a CNN documentary that will be shown in theaters and on TV and an NBC dramatic miniseries starring Diane Lane as the former first lady, senator and secretary of State. But Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus doesn't want me or anyone else to see them. He is trying to muscle the two networks into canceling the projects.
“It's appalling to know executives at major networks like NBC and CNN who have donated to Democrats and Hillary Clinton have taken it upon themselves to be Hillary Clinton's campaign operatives," Priebus said in a statement. "Their actions to promote Secretary Clinton are disturbing and disappointing."
Priebus also warned that he would take his ball – er, debates – and go home if the projects weren’t kiboshed. He said he would seek a binding vote stating that the Republican National Committee “will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor."
One problem with Priebus' complaint is that NBC's Hillary biopic will be produced by the network’s entertainment division, not the news division, and the CNN project is likewise the product of a division separate from the news staff. I find those distinctions easy to understand, though NBC's Chuck Todd said he was worried that "people are going to see the peacock, they see NBC, they see NBC News and they think, 'They can't be that separate.' "
My guess is that Priebus' real concern has nothing to do with pro-Hillary collusion between NBC News and NBC Entertainment. He just doesn't want Hillary Clinton, the presumptive favorite for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, to get extra air time, adulatory or otherwise, as the election season approaches.
But is that really a big concern in this multiplatform age? Surely we've progressed past the time when people worried that Arnold Schwarzenegger the politician would receive some unfair political advantage if "Terminator" were rerun on TV (as if susceptible voters couldn't watch it on a DVD). And isn't it patronizing to suggest that voters could be manipulated by a miniseries or a documentary?
The best answer to Preibus' complaint is that, whatever her political prospects, Hillary Rodham Clinton is a historical figure with a fascinating personal backstory. That she's also a potential candidate for president doesn't change those facts. So let the cameras roll. And rather than agonize about whether the movies will mess with their brand, reporters at CNN and NBC should focus on covering the 2016 campaign fairly.
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