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Hillary Clinton TV Shows Unite Right, Left in Wrongness

The calls from right and left for CNN and NBC to drop Hillary projects amount to: don't make any potentially interesting shows about an active political figure. (And if you do, skew them our way!)

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Daniel Acker / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative CGI America meeting in Chicago, June 13, 2013.

Hillary Clinton has not even declared for President in 2016, yet she is already proving herself a bipartisan leader. The proposed TV projects about her, on NBC and CNN, are uniting right and left in a cross-ideological display of wrongness.

Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee declared that if NBC didn’t cancel its planned Hillary miniseries and CNN a documentary on the former Secretary of State, it would refuse to hold debates on either network. Then David Brock of the left-leaning media-watchdog outlet Media Matters joined the RNC in asking the networks to pull the shows. (Joining both sides, apparently, are Hillary Clinton allies, who reportedly do not want the headaches that might come from either show.)

The Republican objections first; the RNC declared that the programs constitute unfair promotion of a single (potential) Presidential candidate–despite the fact that neither show yet exists. Maybe Republicans believe any show about a political figure is inherently positive, except they don’t when that figure is Republican: witness the conservative reaction to CBS and Showtime’s miniseries about the Reagans, or HBO’s Game Change about Sarah Palin, which were politically attacked before their critics saw them.

(Oh, one exception: Sarah Palin’s Alaska, a series made by TLC in 2010, with Palin’s co-operation. At the time, Palin like Clinton was a party celebrity who was believed to be a possible Presidential candidate, so naturally the RNC also objected strenuously to a TV network giving her singular attention. Um, they did, right? I’m sure those clips must be around here somewhere. Just give me a minuteā€¦)

So maybe the reasoning here is that TV networks (excepting, I assume, Fox) are de facto liberal, that their political biographies will necessarily help Democrats and hurt Republicans. The argument then is not really about one Hillary Clinton project, but rather: stop being so liberal with your liberal TV, liberals.

I‘m not going to try to dissuade conservatives who believe in liberal TV bias with one blog post. But assuming that’s all true–that NBC and CNN are liberal institutions who will always stack the deck against Republicans–then whether they do one Hillary Clinton project or not is irrelevant. They remain liberal, so if the RNC truly doesn’t trust them to host debates, that would hold true even if they didn’t make the Hillary projects.

For some reason, this wasn’t a problem for the RNC in the 2008 or 2012 cycles, when it ran approximately one zillion debates on channels including CNN and NBC. Debates are free publicity; parties don’t hold them out of charity for the networks. What’s different in 2016 is that, as my colleague Zeke Miller has noted, the RNC already wants to hold fewer debates, so as to provide less oxygen for distracting up-and-comers like Herman Cain.

Cutting debates to hinder insurgents would offend the Tea Party base, of course–but casting it as a principled, self-sacrificing decision to punish The Liberal Bias Opinion Media would give the party establishment its regimented primary and its base cred too. (By the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t criticize Democrats for refusing to hold debates on Fox News in the 2007-08 cycle, to cater to its own base: I did.)

Brock’s criticism overlaps the RNC’s in some ways, e.g., that the networks would be giving one candidate more focus than competitors. (By the way, news flash: giving more attention to a famous front-runner than dark-horse competitors is the way pretty much every campaign is covered.) But he also expands on the critique in some weird ways, which boil down to: you shouldn’t make these shows because you might be influenced by the other people who don’t want you to make these shows.

To wit: “Fox News has already done segments suggesting that [each show] will be ‘airbrushed’ or ‘revisionist history’ if it doesn’t include phony scandals like ‘Travelgate,’ ‘Filegate,’ and ‘Whitewater.'” In other words: don’t listen to the other side’s trumped-up concerns trying to spin the public perception of Hillary Clinton! Listen to my trumped-up concerns trying to spin the public perception of Hillary Clinton!

Stripped of their tortured logic and rhetoric, both the conservative and liberal arguments against the Hillary programs amount to: Do not make full-length TV shows about any active political figure, ever. As I’ve said before, if a network produces a love letter or a hit piece on Hillary, it should be criticized as such (and believe me, it will be judged politically regardless).

But to argue that networks have a duty not to make potentially worthy TV because of the risk they might make bad TV is an argument for dull TV. If I can add an open letter to the pile, let me say this to CNN and NBC: ignore the open letters.