Last week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus took an unexpected stance: unless NBC and CNN drop their plans for specials on Hillary Clinton, he'll push a measure to prevent the networks from covering any of the 2016 debates for Republican presidential candidates.
What if NBC News and NBC Entertainment are entirely separate? Priebus said it didn't matter. What if the specials aren't altogether complimentary? The RNC chair said that's irrelevant, too.
The ultimatum generated some interesting discussions in the political world last week, though the New York Times reported "a plot twist" over the weekend.
While NBC has come under heavy fire, especially from Republican critics, for agreeing to broadcast the series, the project may wind up being produced by another company: Fox Television Studios, the sister company of the conservative favorite, Fox News.Leslie Oren, a spokesman for FTVS, as the studio is known, confirmed that NBC is in "the early stages" of discussions to bring the Fox unit in as the production company on the as yet unnamed mini-series, which will star Diane Lane as Mrs. Clinton."There is no deal yet," Ms. Oren said. But should a deal be completed, FTVS would become the distributor of the film internationally. FTVS is the production arm of 21st Century Fox's entertainment group.
As you might imagine, this isn't great news for Priebus. He just said last week that NBC News should be held responsible for production decisions made by NBC Entertainment. But if he's going to apply that same reasoning in an even-handed way, the Republican Party chair should be just as eager to hold Fox News responsible for production decisions made by Fox Entertainment.
But as a practical matter, that's not a realistic option for Priebus: Fox News is, for all intents and purposes, the single most influential arm of the Republican Party's message machine and voter-mobilization campaign. The RNC chair simply isn't in a position to threaten Fox with a debate boycott, and it's a little late for him to back down from his NBC threats.
And so Priebus yesterday came up with an exception to his own rule.
Whether this is persuasive, however, is open to interpretation.
Last week, Reince Priebus threatened to stage a Republican boycott of any NBC and CNN primary debates over the networks' respective decisions to air a miniseries and a documentary on the life of Hillary Clinton. This weekend, the New York Times reported that Fox News sister company Fox Television Studios is in talks to produce the NBC project, but Priebus assured CNN's Candy Crowley that he didn't have a problem with that, since Fox's people would simply be assembling the offending project, not airing it. "I'm not interested if they're using the same caterer or whether they all drink Diet Coke and I'm not boycotting [miniseries star] Diane Lane," he said, to what we imagine was Lane's great relief.
Hmm. Fox Television can produce the Clinton special and distribute the special worldwide, but so long as Fox Television doesn't actually air the program in the United States, Priebus doesn't see the need to punish Fox News.
What a relief Priebus has this all figured out.
Also note, Priebus told msnbc last week that he's not only interested in excluding various networks from hosting debates, he also intends to reject debate moderators unless he considers them sufficiently "interested in the future of the Republican Party and our nominees."