Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent shockwaves throughout the media and both political parties last week by threatening to pull the rights of NBC and CNN to broadcast the 2016 Republican presidential primary debates. If the networks don’t cancel their pro-Hillary Clinton TV specials, which are little more than free political ads for her, Priebus will have the RNC vote on August 15th to “neither partner with you in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates which you sponsor.” Priebus said on Bloomberg TV’s Street Smart, “I just want their presidents and their chairmen to know that if they want to move forward and spend millions of dollars promoting one particular candidate before the 2016 election, then we're going to do what we want to do, and we're just going to shut them out of our debates.” Hillary Clinton is the leading front runner in Democratic polls for president in 2016.
NBC is producing a miniseries called “Hillary,” featuring the beautiful actress Diane Lane playing Hillary, no doubt selected to portray the frumpy Clinton as attractively as possible. CNN is planning on airing a documentary about Clinton produced by Charles Ferguson, who appears to be the second coming of Michael Moore. Ferguson is known for his anti-Wall Street documentary, Inside Job, and anti-war documentary, No End In Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq.
CNN has responded and said it will not back down. At first glance, this seems like it might be irresponsible on Priebus’s part. The GOP will lose valuable media coverage reaching millions of viewers if the networks refuse to back down. Or will it?
NBC and CNN broadcast half of the 2012 GOP primary debates. The 20-26 debates – depending on how you are counting – in 2012 were frankly overkill and full of loaded questions designed to embarrass and ridicule GOP candidates. One of the most outrageous questions directed at a Republican candidate occurred during a CNN debate. CNN’s John King asked Newt Gingrich whether he would take some time to respond to allegations made by his ex-wife that he suggested she accept his extramarital affair. Fortunately, the brilliant Gingrich destroyed the inappropriateness of his question to thunderous applause, “No, but I will. I think the destructive vicious negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. I’m appalled you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”
Even more sneaky, the partisan media brought up questions about contraception during the Republican primary debates in order to make it appear to be a real issue, benefitting Obama as well as Hillary Clinton in the future. The reality is, virtually any woman can buy birth control for practically nothing at Walmart or obtain it free from family planning clinics, and none of the Republican candidates were advocating banning it. There has been speculation since then that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos was instructed by the Democrats to ask the irrelevant question. Andrew Breitbart was investigating the possible collusion between the media and the Democrat Party before he passed away.
There were 14-16 Republican presidential debates during the 2008 campaign. In the 2000 campaign, there were only about three. The colossal number of primary debates during the 2012 cycle simply was not necessary. They left the candidates exhausted; wasting time preparing that could have been better spent on other campaign activities such as fundraising. It also gave the GOP much more time than the Democrats in the limelight attacking each other; time that would have been more productively spent attacking Democrats. The Democrats had no presidential primary debates during the 2012 campaign, giving them considerably more time to promote Obama. Mitt Romney really disliked the large number of debates; had he been able to spend more time campaign instead of prepping for all the debates, he may have stood a better chance against Obama.
Even the publisher of the left wing site The Daily Kos agrees that the additional exposure of Republican infighting isn’t helpful to the GOP. He suggests that Democrats should also ditch unfriendly networks, choosing their own partisan moderators like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who are more likely to focus on issues of actual relevance to the party’s base.
Fox News has become so popular there is no reason not to move most of the debates to Fox News. The debates could still be carried by local television outlets, reaching much of the population that doesn’t watch Fox News. The decrease in viewers during the GOP primary debates last election cycle was due to casual viewers tuning out, so cutting the debates from a couple of stations frequented by casual viewers will have even less of an effect. Only a few million viewers watched the last few 2012 debates, due to debate fatigue. CNN has about half the viewership of Fox News. Several of the debates hosted by Fox News drew more than six million viewers, whereas the debates hosted by CNN never even reached six million.
Priebus’s warning is gaining support. The chairmen of the GOP in Iowa and South Carolina, both states that hold multiple primary debates, support his move. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is also a proponent, asking during a radio interview, “Should we be scheduling debates and allowing people who used to, and still do, have contact with the active Democrat party? Should we be subjecting ourselves to that or should we try to have more neutral or objective type of moderators?”
Priebus knows what he is doing. The GOP has little to lose and everything to gain by reducing the number of debates hosted by partisan networks. If the big stations aren’t going to be objective, why not use a little clout to pressure them into behaving like legitimate news networks, instead of shills and revolving doors for the Democratic Party.
Longtime Arizona politico Farrell Quinlan suggests that the GOP needs to move away from the “dinosaur media” controlling debates, and try other formats. He says the GOP should “explore fresh approaches from other fields like think tank-types, columnists, business owners small and large, governors, Congressmen, religious leaders, former candidates, historians, economists, retired military, enlisted and officers, etc.” TV networks should be provided a feed, but no editorial control. The GOP is losing out among youth, who overwhelmingly voted for Obama. This is one way Republicans could finally get ahead of Democrats when it comes to technology during the presidential election.