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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, AUG. 13, 2013
POLITICS AND SHOWBIZ: A REDUNDANCY
BY BOB FRANKEN
Score one for NBC. I mean the entertainment division, which has gotten priceless publicity by inciting an uproar over its plans to air a four-part Hillary Clinton biopic years from now. The controversy guarantees huge ratings whenever it airs, which is TBA. The part of Bill Clinton has not been cast yet. Let the snarky speculation begin! Diane Lane already has been cast as Hillary, as she bounces from the Monica Lewinsky mortification to U.S. senator to secretary of state. The upheaval, though, is caused by what might be her next gig: candidate for president. Add to the mix the fact that CNN also is planning a documentary on her, and the Republicans are going bonkers over what they believe will be puff pieces about their potential rival in the White House race.
It’s certainly not hard to sympathize with their outrage. Nor is it difficult to agree with the fuss inside NBC News. Correspondent Chuck Todd calls the announcement a “total nightmare” for those who cover politics for the network, because most people don't understand or care even a little that NBC Entertainment is separate from the news division. Chuck’s colleague Andrea Mitchell calls the plan “unsettling and uncomfortable.” I fully concur, and before someone raises the point: While I am not employed by the company, I appear frequently on MSNBC.
As for the GOPers, their complaints were justified, at least until Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus got into the act. In effect, he’s delivered an ultimatum: If NBC and CNN go ahead with their Hillary programs, those networks would not get to moderate presidential candidates in 2016. He went on to explain -- on MSNBC, no less -- that it is because they are “not actually interested in the future of the Republican party and our nominees.”
Will someone explain to Reince that a journalist moderator shouldn’t be promoting the well-being of either party? We should be skeptical of both, at least while we’re covering them. He’s aware of that, but he also knows full well that his fellow conservatives have long believed that the media and their reporters are scumbag liberals (not counting Fox News), so they’d love nothing better than to shut out NBC and CNN. The truth is that Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left are ideological havens, while CNN tries to go both ways. But whatever their shtick, it is not up to the parties to dictate the coverage, and it sure isn’t appropriate for their leaders to resort to extortion.
That being said, let’s naively assume for the moment that Priebus really means what he says and that he’s not simply trying to keep the base fires burning. Even if that’s the case, there are probably some face-saving ways out of this. For example, NBC could go ahead with the four-parter, but switch writers and use the people who created that derogatory Sarah Palin film on HBO. CNN, meanwhile, could save the money spent producing a new documentary and simply replay that vicious hit job on Hillary created by Citizens United. You’ll remember that it was so nasty that it became the basis for the infamous Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which basically allows the rich to buy elections. Republicans would be happy seeing that film on TV.
Another possibility would be for Democratic debates to appear only on MSNBC, and the GOP’s on Fox. CNN won’t be a factor because it’ll be covering only trials by then. For the general election, PBS can handle things, or maybe ESPN. It’s too much to hope that they’d simply do away with the debates, particularly since they attract viewers who enjoy watching buffoonish reality shows. Maybe we could add “The Real Wives of the Candidates.”
Actually, Chuck Todd had another dynamite idea: Instead of Hillary Clinton, NBC could do a four-parter on John Edwards. He won’t be running for president. Will he?
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.