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 and an attempt to seize more control of a crucial element of modern-day campaigns.
Cable and broadcast television networks have sponsored and produced dozens of primary debates during the recent presidential election cycles, often partnering with state parties or other political organizations in an effort 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 Washington Post co-sponsored a debate with Bloomberg News in the lead-up to the New Hampshire GOP primary.
Presidential candidates of both parties have complained in the past that debates require a significant devotion to preparation and evenings spent on stage with fellow candidates instead of time spent with voters on the campaign trail. Party leaders, candidates and consultants of both parties also have complained that the format sometimes does a better job of exposing intra-party divisions than raising concerns about the opposing party.
In hopes of taking back at least some control of the process, top RNC leaders unanimously approved a resolution Friday at their annual summer meeting in Boston stating that the national party will not partner with CNN or NBC nor sanction any primary debates they plan to sponsor and broadcast.
“We’re done putting up with this nonsense,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told his colleagues before they voted. “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 their competitors’ networks.”
Eager to blunt the future political aspirations of Clinton, 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 campaign should she decide to run for president in 2016.. 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 possible plans.
The resolution approved Friday 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.”
On the same day as the RNC vote, Fox Television Studios, a sibling to Fox News Channel and the Fox broadcast network, announced that it would not partner with NBC on the miniseries. Fox had been in talks with NBC but hadn’t reached a final deal.
The ban on CNN and NBC extends to their Spanish-
language networks, CNN en Espanol and Telemundo, leaving the party with only one major
Spanish-language broadcaster, Univision, to partner with on officially sanctioned debates.
Television networks do not need the permission of the RNC to host such debates, but the resolution approved Friday is expected to prompt state party officials and other conservative organizations to refuse to cooperate with any debates or forums sponsored by CNN or NBC.
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 its resolution.
Both networks announced their productions in recent weeks, with CNN planning to produce and air a documentary that will run on TV and in theaters. NBC will shoot a four-hour miniseries starring Diane Lane.
NBC News declined to comment Friday, but has said previously that it is a separate entity from NBC Entertainment, which is producing the project. In a statement, CNN said that it is continuing work on the documentary and that it “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.”