GOP warns networks: We can deny you access to our crazy primaries

Republicans want CNN to dump its Hillary documentary, and are using access to GOP primary crazy as leverage

By Brian Beutler
Published August 5, 2013 5:16PM (EDT)
  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The Republican National Committee is outraged that news networks would air a documentary about a big deal newsmaker (Hillary Clinton), and in letters to CNN president Jeff Zucker and NBC News' Robert Greenblatt, chairman Reince Priebus interprets liberals' public indifference to this programming decision as de facto evidence that the documentary will be a Democratic infomercial.

"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 will launch a documentary of its own. They must trust that you're doing her a favor."

You can read the full letter to CNN here. It's a polished gem of unintentional projection. But the kicker is where projection becomes confession, and Priebus tries to strong-arm the networks into dumping the documentary.

"If you have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC's Summer Meeting 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," Priebus writes.

Control over RNC-CNN and RNC-NBC joint ventures is the only real leverage Priebus has over the networks, so in a way it's not that surprising he'd make this particular threat. But anyone who was sentient two years ago understands the real force behind the threat comes from the fact that GOP presidential primary debates are embarrassing spectacles people like to gawk at. Even after nearly two dozen such debates, millions of people still want to watch them, and not just on Fox News.

What would actually be in the party's best interest is holding many fewer debates altogether, and if and when the networks ignore Preibus' threat, he'll have perhaps inadvertently made progress toward that goal. But it's sad commentary on the state of the GOP that the allure of gaping at the Republican primary train wreck is a source of negotiating power for the party.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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2016 Elections Cnn Debates Reince Priebus Republican Primary Rnc