Something that Republicans can still do with aplomb is to play the media game. While right-wing individuals tend to say incredibly idiotic stuff, like that a woman’s body can repel a rapist’s sperm, the party mechanism itself is very finely honed.
Take one of their latest gambits: they threaten to cancel primary debates on CNN and NBC if they go forward with planned programming featuring Hillary Clinton. NBC plans to make a miniseries, while CNN will produce a documentary.
The GOP objection is expressed in this letter, to NBC:
As an American company, you have every right to air programming of your choice. But as American citizens, certainly you recognize why many are astounded at your actions. which appear to be a major networks’ thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election. …
I find this disturbing and disappointing. NBC cannot purport to be a neutral party in American politics, and the credibility of NBC News, already damaged by the partisanship of MSNBC, will be further undermined by the actions of NBC Universal executives who have taken it upon themselves to produce an extended commercial for Secretary Clinton’s nascent campaign. …
If you have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote of the RNC stating that the committee will neither partner with you in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates which you sponsor.
Like both networks did in 2006, right? Oh, wait, they didn’t. Hillary was also known to be a candidate then, was also seen as the inevitable front-runner, etc. etc.—so if NBC and CNN are so “in the tank” for her, why nothing on her back then? The answer, of course, is that right now a program featuring Hillary is most likely to gain viewers. That is always the bottom line, of course.
But the GOP isn’t doing this for nothing. They get several benefits:
- They get to paint themselves as victims; victims always get vaulted status and special breaks
- They get to perpetuate the myth that the media is liberally biased, when the most-watched “news” network is essentially their 24-7 propaganda machine
- They get to cry “election theft” way in advance, even as they set up the largest number of laws which amount to thinly-veiled election theft
- They get to influence people’s reactions to the programming and smear Hillary, putting forth the assumption that any TV show about her will put her in a better light than reality
- They get to “play the ref” with the networks, a tried-and-true technique whereupon accusation of liberal bias will shift network bias sharply to the right; in this case, either getting said networks to tone down any positive view of Hillary, and/or getting them to play up negatives so as to achieve “balance”
- They get to hold fewer debates without looking like that’s what they intended all along
- They get to avoid having debates on any network that won’t make them into softball beauty pageants, without looking like they are—as they indeed are—deathly afraid of any debate moderator actually acting like a real journalist and pointing out the GOP insanity oozing from their candidates.
The last two points are undoubtedly the most salient; the GOP was in part slaughtered in the previous election by their interminable primary debate streak, which brought forth almost every candidate (except the most reasonable, of course) as a front-runner at least once (and a couple at least twice), causing all the campaigns to expend great amounts of funds and energy fighting against each other, whilst providing tons of ammunition for the opposition, ammunition which was then weeded and honed into devastating attacks against the eventual party candidate.
The GOP, without much doubt, would love to limit the number of primary debates to a much smaller number and hold them in venues where they can carefully control the content and exposure—in short, making these debates, until now one of the few raw images of the process, into a scripted media event as fake and as controlled as every other.
They know that Hillary will be coming at them like a steamroller, and they know that women will vote in huge numbers for her, challenging and already very challenged Republican party. They have known this for a while, which is one reason they were so excited by Benghazi, because it meant they had a shot of “scandalizing” Hillary and shooting down her chances in 2016. The GOP is not daunted by failure, however, and continues their best to paint her as unfit. Take their brief attempt to characterize her as “too old,” for example. Expect this kind of thing to intensify.
There is another aspect to this attack which is disturbing in a different way: manipulation of media. This is hardly anything new for the GOP, but the prospect of a political party threatening the withdrawal of access on the condition of following a party’s demands on the networks’ programming is more than a bit disturbing. Of course, it has increasingly been the tone for the GOP, from the staged, part-faithful-only “town hall” meetings Bush favored to the increasing tendency of the media to accept highly conditional terms in exchange for access to a candidate. Sarah Palin’s “I’m only talking to Fox” technique is becoming the new norm for Republican candidates, who find their craziness and cluelessness harder and harder to conceal when the interviewer is not a partisan hack. And sometimes even then—remember Mitt Romney getting all flustered when a Fox interviewer was not all softballs and praise?
The difference with this level of interference, however, is the overt tone. The GOP is making a very open and plain threat: tailor your programming to our preferences, or we cut off your access. I do not think it has been done so overtly or outrageously before.
Here is the full text of the letter, with my comments in green italics:
Dear Mr. Greenblatt:
I’m writing to you to express my deep disappointment in your company’s decision to air a miniseries promoting former Secretary Hillary Clinton ahead of her likely candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.
As an American company, you have every right to air programming of your choice. (Unless we disapprove, of course.) But as American citizens, certainly you recognize why many are astounded at your actions, (and by “many,” we mean “us”) which appear to be a major networks thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election. (Only Fox is allowed that, you should know that by now.) This special treatment is unfair to the candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2016 who might compete against Secretary Clinton (including Vice President Biden (like he’ll actually have a chance!), Governors O’Malley, Cuomo, and Hickenlooper, Senator Klobuchar and others (because all of those are serious contenders who have a real chance to… HAR! COuldn’t keep a straight face here, sorry.)) and to the Republican nominee, should Clinton compete in the general election.
There’s ample cause for concern. Executives and employees of Comcast, NBC’s parent company, have been generous supporters of Democrats and Secretary Clinton. David Cohen, Comcast’s EVP, raised over $1 4 million for President Obama’s reelection efforts and hosted a fundraiser for the president. (Funny, they had no problem when Comcast CEO Neil Smit was a big Republican donor.) Comcast Corp. employees have donated $522,996 to the president and donated $161,640 to Secretary Clinton’s previous campaigns. (How much went to Republicans? And if we surveyed Fox employees, what would we see?)
Your company has expressly stated that your choice to air the miniseries in the near future would avoid concerns of running afoul of equal time election laws. (Because we are really in favor of equal-time laws!) This suggests a deliberate attempt at influencing American political opinion in favor of a preferred candidate, not to mention a guilty conscience. (Again, that’s Fox News’ job!) 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 NBC is launching 2 miniseries on network television. (Because that is exactly the same thing—a political smear job by a Koch-funded conservative campaign group is equal to a non-affiliated TV network making a mainstream miniseries.)
I find this disturbing and disappointing. (That’s my job.) NBC cannot purport to be a neutral party in American politics, and the credibility of NBC News, already damaged by the partisanship of MSNBC, will be further undermined by the actions of NBC Universal executives who have taken it upon themselves to produce an extended commercial for Secretary Clinton’s nascent campaign. (Remember, Fox News is fair and balanced—no hypocrisy here!)
Secretary Clinton has been in the public eye for well over two decades, so you certainly cannot claim that a series about her political career is any sort of public service or informational docudrama on an unknown individual. (Because TV networks never make dramas about people who are well-known!) Quite the opposite is true: it would be most accurately described as an in-kind donation. (Which is really different than having your own 24/7 news channel.)
Out of a sense of fairness and decency and in the interest of the political process and your company’s reputation, I call on you to cancel this political ad masquerading as an unbiased production. (Or, make it about how Hillary killed Vince Foster. We’d love that!)
If you have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote of the RNC stating that the committee will neither partner with you in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates which you sponsor. (Which is what we plan to do anyway, unless you agree to partner in name only while we control everything.)
I love the part where they state that such programs would be unfair to Governor Hickenlooper and Senator Klobuchar. It is actually hard to tell if they are trying to make fun of Democrats or are seriously positing these candidates as serious primary threats to Clinton.