Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book is setting up a battle of the network stars.
With Clinton’s memoir, “Hard Choices,” a likely bestseller and possible curtain-raiser on her 2016 presidential ambitions, the television networks have begun jockeying to be the first to interview the former first lady and secretary of state when her publicity campaign begins in a few weeks.
Each network — from ABC to CNN to Fox News Channel — is honing a pitch to the Clinton camp, which is likely to have its pick of programs, time slots and interviewers.
Clinton is considered such a huge “get,” the TV term for an important interview, that the networks are considering prime time hours and their biggest news stars as interviewers, according to people at the networks. Like many high-profile authors, Clinton is likely to do multiple interviews to promote her book, but the first interview tends to attract the most attention and largest audience.
Robert Barnett, the Washington attorney who brokered Clinton’s book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster and who will help orchestrate her media campaign, declined to comment on Clinton’s plans. And Clinton adviser Philippe Reines said no decisions about media strategy have been made. “We only recently turned our attention in earnest to that aspect,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped the strategizing at the networks over booking Clinton. The early line suggests ABC and CBS have the most advantageous positions, although that is by no means assured.
CNN and NBC both antagonized the Clinton camp, as well as her Republican opponents, when they announced plans last year to feature her in separate programs. CNN had sought to produce a documentary about her career; NBC had planned a miniseries through its entertainment division. But after drawing criticism from both sides and getting little cooperation from people close to Clinton, the two networks dropped their proposals.
What is more, CNN’s ratings troubles make it a less valuable platform for newsmakers. Conversely, NBC has several attractive options, among them: a top-rated newscast in “Nightly News with Brian Williams” and the “Today” show.
“We would obviously be thrilled to have access to Secretary Clinton for her book, and as you’d expect, we are putting the full power of NBC News behind it,” said Erika Masonhall, a network spokeswoman, without offering details. “We feel we’ve made quite an imaginative and attractive pitch, but we understand she’ll have many options, and we respect whatever she decides.” CNN did not respond to requests for comment.
CBS has featured Clinton several times on “60 Minutes,” its highly rated Sunday program, most famously in early 1992, when Bill Clinton saved his presidential candidacy by appearing with his wife to deny allegations of infidelity. Hillary Clinton appeared on the program with President Obama in early 2013 in an unusual joint interview about her retirement as secretary of state. (CBS correspondent Rita Braver is Robert Barnett’s wife, although it is not clear whether or how that fact affects the situation.)
ABC’s pitch is likely to involve Diane Sawyer, the anchor of the network’s signature news program, “World News.” Sawyer often competes for big interviews with her fellow ABC news stars Barbara Walters and George Stephanopoulos, but this time she has a clear field. Walters is retiring on May 16, three weeks before the June 10 publication of “Hard Choices.” Stephanopoulos, who hosts both “Good Morning America” and the Sunday “This Week” program, is a former political adviser to Bill Clinton, and his past association with the couple makes a Hillary Clinton interview “problematic” for both sides, as one network executive put it.
Despite the conservative bent of its prime-time opinion programs, Fox News isn’t out of the running for Clinton, a Democrat. Clinton has appeared on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News program, most recently in January of last year.
One network executive downplayed the stakes of a Clinton interview, saying the timing and context of Clinton’s book makes an interview with her something less than a major event.
“I don’t see it” being widely watched, said the person, who asked not to be identified to avoid alienating Clinton’s representatives. “The elections are a long way off, and she’s not going to announce she’s running [for president] now. She’s talked about [the terrorist attacks in] Benghazi many times before. What makes it different this time? I don’t think there are many surprises or blockbusters here.”
What’s more, he adds, any interviews are likely to take place after the broadcast networks close out their 2013-14 “season” and begin summer reruns at the end of the third week in May. Viewing levels tend to fall sharply as warmer weather begins and the networks air repeats of sitcoms and dramas during prime-time hours. “It would be different if this was happening in the middle of winter or the fall,” he said. But now, “I don’t see 20 million” viewers tuning in.
But that’s not to say that his network is taking a pass. “It’s still a big interview,” he said.
Clinton’s book will provide an “inside account of the crises, choices and challenges” she faced as secretary of state and “how those experiences drive her view of the future,” according to pre-release publicity from Simon & Schuster.
Some view the book as an effort to burnish her credentials as secretary of state in advance of her announcing a run for the presidency. Republicans have been critical of her tenure in that office, especially her handling of the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 that left four Americans dead.
Clinton’s 2003 memoir, “Living History,” was a hit, selling more than 1 million copies.