WASHINGTON -- The Republican National Committee charged Monday that NBC and CNN are promoting a potential presidential candidacy by Hillary Rodham Clinton, threatening to blackball them from future GOP primary debates if they air upcoming programs on the former secretary of state.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus called a planned NBC miniseries on Clinton and a CNN documentary on the first lady an "extended commercial" for a future Clinton presidential campaign. In separate letters to the networks, he urged them to cancel "this political ad masquerading as an unbiased production."
Clinton has not yet said whether she'll run for president again in 2016 but her future remains the subject of wide speculation in political circles and beyond. The primary debates typically provide a ratings boost for the networks and are highly-coveted as the presidential campaign unfolds.
In making the charge, the RNC was raising a common complaint among Republican activists that news and entertainment industries favor Democratic candidates. Republicans have also used a potential Clinton campaign as a fundraising tool in recent months as both parties begin to assess the crop of candidates to succeed President Barack Obama.
CNN Films is planning a feature-length documentary film on the former first lady, looking at her professional and personal life. It will be led by Oscar-winning director and producer Charles Ferguson and is expected to air in 2014.
NBC has announced a miniseries called "Hillary," starring actress Diane Lane. No air date has been announced but it is timed to be released before the 2016 presidential election. NBC has said the four-hour miniseries will follow Clinton's life and career from 1998 to the present.
Richard Licata, an NBC Entertainment spokesman, declined to comment on the request and referred calls to NBC News, which said in a statement that it "is completely independent of NBC Entertainment and has no involvement in this project."
CNN said in a statement that "instead of making premature decisions about a project that is in the very early stages of development and months from completion, we would encourage the members of the Republican National Committee to reserve judgment until they know more."
"Should they decide not to participate in debates on CNN, we would find it curious, as limiting their debate participation seems to be the ultimate disservice to voters," CNN said.
In the letters, Priebus said the RNC would refuse to partner with the two networks on future Republican primary debates or sanction any debates which CNN or NBC may sponsor if they continued with their Clinton programs. Unless the networks comply, he plans to push for the sanctions at an RNC meeting in Boston beginning on Aug. 14.
GOP leaders in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina said they supported the request.
Since Mitt Romney's loss to Obama in last year's elections, Republicans have pushed to limit the number of primary debates. A large field of Republicans participated in about 20 debates in 2011 and 2012 and some party leaders argued that it hurt their ability to stay unified against Obama. An audit by the RNC released earlier this year called for about 10 to 12 primary debates during the 2016 campaign, with the first occurring no earlier than Sept. 1, 2015.
If NBC and CNN were excluded from sponsoring debates, it could help the RNC meet its recommendation.
The GOP request also shines a spotlight on the tricky nature of television news and how the entertainment wing of a network can cause headaches for its separate news division. CNN Films is a unit of CNN that was started last year to develop feature-length documentaries to be aired both on television and in movie theaters. CNN, part of Time Warner Inc., has said it also will air the Clinton documentary in theaters.
NBC Entertainment is separate from NBC News but both are part of NBCUniversal, which Comcast purchased from General Electric in 2011. In the letter, Priebus noted that executives and employees of Philadelphia-based Comcast have made large financial contributions to the campaigns of Obama and Clinton in the past.