Editorial: GOP vs. CNN? This fight’s not worth it

Last modified: 8/8/2013 12:36:20 AM
If you’re a TV network hoping to lure easily distracted viewers, are you more likely to produce:

(A) A gushy love letter to a well-known public figure or

(B) A high-drama story filled with political intrigue, international tension, big wins, big losses and a sex scandal or two involving a recklessly cheating spouse?

Our guess is (B). And if the subject at hand is Hillary Clinton, there’s more than enough polarizing controversy in her long, public career to fill an hour or two.

That’s what makes the latest GOP dustup such a mystery.

National Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus this week threatened to refuse to team up with CNN or NBC on any 2016 presidential primary debates if the networks don’t pull the plug on their planned documentaries about Clinton, the former secretary of state, first lady and U.S. senator – and a possible candidate for president. NBC has said it plans a mini-series about Clinton with actress Diane Lane as the star. CNN is planning a feature-length documentary about her as well.

Priebus said he would seek a binding vote at the Republican National Committee’s summer meeting this month to formalize the boycott and called the planned TV shows a “thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.”

His worries – and his threat – were quickly echoed by New Hampshire GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn.

“Chairman Priebus raises valid concerns in his letter to NBC and CNN executives, and I will support his resolution if it comes up for a vote at the RNC summer meeting,” Horn said in a written statement. “Republican presidential candidates should not be forced to participate in debates that are hosted by networks that choose to actively promote Democrats. I will also recommend that the New Hampshire Republican State Committee Executive Board support a ban on co-sponsoring debates with NBC or CNN unless Chairman Priebus’s concerns are addressed.”

Without seeing these still-unproduced projects, Priebus and Horn seem to imagine that they’ll be little more than free political ads for Clinton – precisely the sort of thing that cause most TV viewers to switch to Netflix in a hurry. Or perhaps they believe that even negative publicity (Remember Whitewater? Hillarycare? Monica? Benghazi? The 2008 election?) helps Clinton in 2016 – not exactly a ringing endorsement of the field of would-be Republican candidates.

We’d urge Priebus and Horn to take a deep breath and reconsider.

We understand how easy it is to rally true believers against the media, but does the Republican Party really need this fight? At a time when the party has acknowledged its need to reach out to a younger, broader constituency, stoking conspiracy theories can’t help. It’s quite possible that the GOP candidates for president might actually want to appear on CNN or NBC as a way of reaching beyond their Fox News base. It’s possible that refusing to cooperate with the big networks will keep some would-be voters from learning about the candidates.

It’s a long way to 2016, of course. But as the 2012 Republican race showed us, these elections and especially the primary debates can make great television. It will be in the interest of all the networks to pay attention and give viewers as much information about all the candidates as possible. And if the GOP wants the White House back, it should make that case to the broadest possible audience.

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