RNC votes to exclude CNN, NBC from 2016 presidential primary debates

Updated 12:05 p.m.

The Republican National Committee formally decided Friday not to partner with CNN and NBC News for any presidential primary debates during the 2016 election cycle, a rebuke of the networks' plans to air programs about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, on March 18. (AP)

Top RNC leaders voted unanimously on a resolution stating that the national party will not partner with the networks nor sanction any primary debates they plan to sponsor and broadcast. (Read a full copy of the resolution below.)

Cable and broadcast television networks have sponsored and produced dozens of presidential primary debates during the recent presidential election cycles, often partnering with state parties or other political organizations in order to draw candidates to the televised events. During the 2012 cycle, top networks sponsored at least 20 debates that stretched from May 2011 to February 2012; CNN hosted seven debates, while NBC News, CNBC or MSNBC hosted four.

The networks do not need the permission of the RNC to host such debates, but the resolution approved Friday likely will prompt state party officials and other conservative organizations to not sponsor, sanction or attend any debates hosted by NBC or CNN and thus keep candidates from attending.

In an early sign of the resistance the two networks might face in early primary states, officials with the New Hampshire Republican Party said the RNC “was right to raise concerns” and that it agreed with plans not to partner with CNN or NBC.

Party officials approved the resolution Friday morning in Boston at the RNC's annual summer meeting.

The ban on CNN and NBC extends to their Spanish-language sibling networks, CNN en Espanol and Telemundo, according to RNC aides. That leaves the RNC with only one major Spanish-language broadcaster, Univision, to partner with on officially-sanctioned debates.

In a statement Friday, CNN said that it continues work on the documentary and that the project “is in the very early stages of development, months from completion.”

“We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it,” CNN said in its statement. “Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that.”

The Democratic National Committee said the decision by Republicans would only “continue to limit the audiences—and voters—to whom they will communicate.”

"It seems that Republicans don't get it,” DNC press secretary Michael Czin said in a statement. “If they truly want to connect with a broader audience, they need an agenda that fights for the middle class and is inclusive. Sadly, it appears that with today's vote, their approach is to actually speak to even fewer voters.”

Eager to blunt the future political aspirations of Clinton, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus had called on the two networks to rethink their decisions to produce and air programs about the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, calling each production a “thinly veiled attempt" to help her 2016 campaign. Over the past two weeks, Republicans and network executives have sparred over whether the two productions amount to free airtime and support for Clinton's plans.

"We're done putting up with this nonsense," Priebus told his party colleagues at the start of their general session Friday. "There are plenty of other news outlets, we’ll still reach plenty of voters. … but CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on competing networks."

Priebus noted that some NBC News correspondents have voiced concern about the NBC production, but he also noted that concerns didn't stop MSNBC from planning to give a weekly show to the actor Alec Baldwin.

"We don’t have time for the media’s games," Priebus said.

The resolution stated that the Clinton-themed programs "will jeopardize the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks and undermine the perceived objectivity of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by these networks."

Spokespeople for CNN and NBC News didn't immediately return requests for comment Friday. MSNBC made mention of the RNC vote during its 11 a.m. newscast.

Both networks announced their plans in recent weeks, with CNN planning to produce and air a documentary that will run on TV and in theaters. NBC plans to shoot a four-hour miniseries starring Diane Lane and the project may be produced for the network by Fox Television Studios, the sister company of the Fox broadcasting network and Fox News Channel.

CNN has said that the RNC's concerns are unfounded and NBC News officials have noted that the news division is a separate entity from NBC Entertainment, which is overseeing production of the miniseries.

RNC officials at the summer meeting this week also unveiled a new "Rising Stars" program to highlight younger conservative activists and politicians. They also heard from Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who delivered a passionate stem-winder on the future of the party on Thursday evening.

Here's a copy of the resolution, as provided by RNC staffers:

WHEREAS, former Secretary Hillary Clinton is likely to run for President in 2016, and CNN and NBC have both announced programming that amounts to little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton; and

WHEREAS, these programming decisions are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election; and

WHEREAS, airing this programming will jeopardize the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks and undermine the perceived objectivity of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by these networks; and

WHEREAS, Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, contributed the maximum amount to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign committee, contributed $25,000 to Obama’s 2012 Victory Fund, and this year contributed $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee; therefore be it –

RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee calls on CNN and NBC to cancel the airing of these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that if CNN and NBC continue to move forward with this and other such programming, the Republican National Committee will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor, and, be it finally

RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen, and that other issues pertaining to the general nature of such debates are addressed.

 

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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