Making a popping sound as he displaces the air, RNC chairman and extradimensional potentate Reince Priebus had demanded that CNN and NBC Entertainment halt production on planned features about Hillary Clinton. And if they do not? One week from today, Priebus 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.” In other words, CNN and NBC drop their respective Hillary projects or they don’t get to carry the Republican debates. And like that, before you could say Subeirp Ecnier, he disappeared.
It’s possible he only disappeared from his open letter, which you can read here, and continued to have a physical form. At this time, though, we must assume that the Reince Priebus exists in our world only through his Republican National Committee, a vortex of unknown forces. Those forces express themselves as they usually do: as 1) rhetoric and 2) suicidal spite. Since the reappearance of Reince Priebus threatens to upset all rational order in the universe, let’s do our part and consider item (1) first.
Priebus’s essential contention is that CNN’s documentary and NBC’s miniseries—which starts with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and follows Hillary from there—constitute a “thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 election.” His whole position rests on that claim, and it is not an absurd one.
Presumably, most people know about Hillary Clinton’s experience as first lady. A miniseries to dramatize it would almost certainly make her a likable protagonist, and watching Rene Zellweger or whoever play her for a week would probably make a segment of the American electorate like her more. I call this segment Dumb People. They are valuable to both parties, and I can understand why Priebus would worry over them.
For that to make sense, though, you have to assume that the more people hear about Hillary Clinton, the more they will like her. Both CNN’s and NBC’s productions are nonfiction, and while that nebulous genre is certainly conducive to bias, it’s not as if they’re giving Hillary a talk show or having her solve murders in rural New England. The real Hillary Clinton is not so beloved. While public opinion of her has certainly improved, 1990s Hillary Clinton appeared in the media as a reviled bitch. Most of that came from conservative commentators, and I personally think that H. Clinton is probably cool, but it’s not as if her every appearance adds to her legion of fans. The RNC may be overestimating the value of her biography.
Which brings us to item (2) and Priebus’s tactics, which I can only call shortsighted. If two Hillary features televised in 2014 are such a powerful force in the 2016 election, what are the Republican debates? In terms of total airtime, they will surely equal or exceed a miniseries and a documentary. And in terms of political messages per hour, the debates will surely be more pro-Republican than the features are pro-Hillary. It seems that the bargaining chip Priebus has put forward against the Hillary features is more valuable to him than to the people he’s bargaining with.
That’s a poor strategy. Priebus isn’t really bargaining, though; he’s threatening. As a person who regularly issues and is the object of threats, I think we should do the experienced thing and play out the possible scenarios:
- NBC and CNN cancel their Hillary features, airing the GOP debates instead. (victory)
- NBC and CNN air the Hillary features, and the RNC prevents those networks from airing the GOP debates. (defeat)
- NBC and CNN air the Hillary features, and the RNC lets them present the debates anyway. (defeat)
Note that option (3), in which Priebus does not make good on his threat, is actually a better outcome for the Republican Party. In the unfortunate scenario where NBC/CNN run the Hillary features, the RNC will do itself no favors by reducing the audience for its own primary debates. Maybe the people who would have watched NBC and CNN will simply tune in on other networks, but even then, Priebus’s situation stays the same or become slightly worse if he does what he said he would. That’s how you know it’s an empty threat.
Also he’s using one of the two major political parties to dictate the content of broadcast media. A Reince Priebus is a heartless creature, loving only mischief and his own power. Fortunately, he is also kind of dumb. We cannot overpower him, but something tells me that in this episode, as in those previous, he will find some way to defeat himself.