RNC Votes 'No' on NBC, CNN Debates Over Clinton Movies
BOSTON-The Republican National Committee passed a resolution today blocking NBC and CNN from partnering with the GOP for any presidential debates during the 2016 primary process because they have not scuttled their pending films on Hillary Clinton.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote Aug. 5 letters to the networks asking them to pull the movies before the vote today or the group would put it to the floor during the RNC's summer meeting here. It passed by a unanimous vote at the meeting today.
In the resolution, the RNC calls the programs "little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton" and the "programming decisions are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election."
The resolution says the programs will "jeopardize the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks and undermine the perceived objectivity of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by these networks" and calls on the networks to "cancel the airing of these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment."
"If CNN and NBC continue to move forward with this and other such programming, the Republican National Committee will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor," the resolution reads, leaving some wiggle room if the networks decide to pull their programs in the future.
If the networks do not, the RNC would need to vote again if the group changes its mind and decides to partner with networks anyway.
Priebus mentioned the boycott in a speech to the members before the vote, saying, "a network that spends millions to spotlight Hillary Clinton is a network with an obvious bias. And that's a network that won't be hosting a single Republican primary debate.
"For the first time, our party rules allow us to take action on debates," Priebus said. "So it's time that we do what's right for our party and our candidates. And by the way, this is the right thing to do for voters. They're not going to get a real debate of substance if it's run by a network who wants to help out Hillary Clinton."
The members interrupted Priebus' speech with a standing ovation.
NBC announced its miniseries last month. It is a four-parter starring Diane Lane, with no set air date. CNN also announced last month it was planning a feature-length movie on the former secretary of state's life to premiere in movie theaters and television next year. Both networks have said the programs will have no bearing on the news or reporting sides of the networks, and neither has said how Clinton will be portrayed.
"NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment, and has no involvement in this project," network spokeswoman Erika Masonhall told ABC News earlier this month.
CNN responded to today's vote with a statement asking the RNC not to rush to judgment, explaining that it is a "non-fiction" look at the former secretary of state.
"The project is in the very early stages of development, months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done," the statement said. "Therefore, speculation about the final program is just that. We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it. Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that."
Newt Gingrich, who will begin hosting a CNN show this fall, was a speaker at the summer meeting and told reporters that "NBC and CNN ought to offer the RNC equal time."
"If they want to run a two- or three-hour documentary on Hillary, then give the RNC two or three hours to make their case. But I think the idea of pretending that you are going to make this neutral documentary is silly. It's not going to happen. It won't happen that way," Gingrich said.
Having more control over the number of debates and debate schedule is a priority for Priebus, something also mentioned in the resolution, which says the party "shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen."
Priebus told reporters earlier in the week that the "slicing and dicing … in the debates is a mess for our party," as well as the prolonged primary calendar that pits candidates against one another for "way too long."
"Our convention should not be in August. I think that our convention has got to get moved to no later than late June or maybe, maybe the early part of July," Priebus said. "I think we need a very clear start date and a very clear end date and those are things I think I'm going to be able to get done."
After the vote today, members were happy the party decided to exert more control over the debate process. Ron Kaufman, the RNC committee member from Massachusetts and former Mitt Romney adviser, said the resolution and the prospect of the RNC's "taking charge" of the debate process is a "great idea."
"Republican primaries are about getting our message to our voters on issues we care about," Kaufman said. "If you go back to the  Republican debates how much time we spent on the issue we cared the most about the economy was minuscule."
When asked whether the idea of conservative pundits' moderating debates, a topic that has been mentioned recently, Kaufman said it "doesn't make a different who it is right now," suggesting possibilities such as university professors, elected officials or even moderators from conservative think-tanks.
Bill Palatucci, the committee member from New Jersey and chair of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign, said Priebus was "right on point."
"It's our nominating process," Palatucci said. "We need to control it."
Joe Nosef, the chairman of the Mississippi GOP, said he is "pleased that the party is aggressively advocating for both a fair and reasonable debate process."
"The seemingly endless circular firing squad during the primary process in 2012 was clearly not in the best interest of our party," Nosef said. "We can have a process that provides for robust debate of the issues without severely damaging our eventual nominee in the process."