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RNC moves to freeze out networks on debates

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(photo: MGN Online)

BOSTON — The Republican National Committee approved a resolution Friday vowing to sideline CNN and NBC from the presidential primary debate process in 2016 unless the networks abandon plans to produce programs about Hillary Clinton.

CNN recently commissioned a documentary film about Clinton, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, that is scheduled to run in theaters and on CNN sometime in 2014.

NBC, meanwhile, is developing a dramatic miniseries about Clinton, who is considering a second presidential bid and would almost certainly enter the race as the Democratic frontrunner in 2016.

“For the first time our party rules allow us to take action on these debates. So it is time that we do what’s right for our party and our candidates. And by the way, it is the right thing to do for our voters,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said at the meeting.

In a statement released after the vote, CNN responded: “CNN Films, a division of CNN Worldwide, commissioned a documentary about Hillary Clinton earlier this year. It is expected to premiere in 2014 with a theatrical run prior to airing on CNN. The CNN broadcast date has not been determined. This documentary will be a non-fiction look at the life of a former First Lady and Secretary of State. The project is in the very early stages of development, months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done. Therefore speculation about the final program is just that. We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it. Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that.”

The seven-point resolution, which passed by voice vote, describes the television projects as “little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton,” promises that the RNC “will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor” unless they halt production of the programs.

The language also notes that Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, contributed to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012.

The measure goes to the heart of what Republican insiders believe was a major problem for the party during the 2012 primary process – a marathon debate schedule that kept GOP candidates off the campaign trail and led several of them to make a string of damaging statements in full view of the national electorate.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney staked out hard-line immigration positions in several primary debates – he famously called for illegal immigrants to “self-deport” – and the comments were used against him to devastating effect by the Obama campaign during the general election.

A group of Republican officials who were asked to draft a post-election “autopsy” report and plot a path forward for the party called the number of primary debates in 2012 – 20 in all — “ridiculous.”

The RNC “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,” Friday’s resolution said.

The committee has no formal power to prevent Republican candidates from participating in network debates, but they could decide to enact penalties for candidates who might choose to ignore the resolution.

Before the vote, Priebus earned a standing ovation from the 168-member committee when he accused the two networks of “obvious bias” and said CNN and NBC “won’t be hosting a single Republican primary debate.”

“We’re done putting up with this nonsense,” he said. “There are plenty of other news outlets. We’ll still reach voters. Maybe more voters. But CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks.”

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