I’m confused. Even if both networks yield to the RNC’s demands, their intent to promote Hillary has already been proved. Why trust them to be “neutral” arbiters going forward just because the movies end up being canceled under pressure?

Is Candy Crowley suddenly a legit moderator again if “Hilary! The Movie” suspends production?

Today Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus sent a letter to Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, and Jeff Zucker, President of CNN Worldwide, calling on their networks to cancel their attempts to influence Americans’ political decisions. Both networks are airing programs promoting former Secretary Hillary Clinton ahead of her likely candidacy for president in 2016. NBC has announced plans to air a miniseries, while CNN is producing a documentary. If the productions are not canceled prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meeting, Chairman Priebus will seek a binding vote of the RNC to prevent the committee from partnering with these networks in 2016 primary debates or sanctioning debates they sponsor.

“It’s appalling to know executives at major networks like NBC and CNN who have donated to Democrats and Hillary Clinton have taken it upon themselves to be Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives,” said Chairman Priebus. “Their actions to promote Secretary Clinton are disturbing and disappointing. I hope Americans will question the credibility of these networks and that NBC and CNN will reconsider their partisan actions and cancel these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment. If they have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meeting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote stating that the RNC will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor.”

Read Priebus’s letter to NBC. He notes — correctly — that the parent network of MSNBC is, necessarily, not real trustworthy to begin with. He notes — correctly — that an awful lot of money has been raised for Democrats by execs at Comcast, NBC’s own parent network. (He also notes — correctly — that NBC’s Hillary boosterism hurts her Democratic rivals for the nomination as much as it hurts the GOP.) And then … he essentially offers to go through with the debates if the Hillary movie is spiked. Why?

Zeke Miller of Time floats a compelling theory:

Reforming the primary debate process has been a central component of the RNC’s 2012 autopsy, with party officials trying to restrict the number of debates and screen out unfriendly debate moderators. But the effort to cut back on the number of debates has run into headwinds from Republican state parties in early states, who in many instances see revenue from co-hosting the debates and associated events. The autopsy recommends changing the RNC rules to include penalties for Republican state parties or candidates if they participate in debates unsanctioned by the RNC.

To date that provision has not caught on. But Priebus’s letter is designed to make that easier when the Republican National Committee meets in Boston next week to discuss the debate schedule, according to one member of the Republican National Committee. “If they have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meeting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote stating that the RNC will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor,” Priebus wrote in his letter.

Republican Party officials believe the 20 GOP primary debates during the 2012 cycle hurt their party and Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee. They proposed a more modest 10-12 debates, in part to protect better-funded candidates from insurgents who capitalize on their time before the cameras.

Priebus has indeed been calling for fewer debates for months. The more debates there are, the more chances there are for promising candidates to stumble fatally (like Rick Perry did) and the more chances there are for grassroots upstarts like Ted Cruz to make inroads at the expense of the establishment’s preferred candidates. But how can the RNC call for fewer debates without antagonizing the grassroots (and the state parties looking to make a buck from them)? Simple: Frame it as a war on media bias. Although, again, that raises the question of why the RNC even gave NBC and CNN a chance to retain their debate rights. Why not just declare the Hillary movies an unpardonable act of partiality and pull the plug? If they promised CBS and ABC exclusive network rights to carry the debates, the public pat on the back for comparative objectivity (emphasis on “comparative”) might make those nets a teensy bit better disposed towards the GOP and its nominee going forward than they’d otherwise be.

I guess Priebus figures there’s no way that either CNN or NBC will bow to their demands here, in which case it’s better for PR reasons to offer them a choice and have it be rejected than to simply pull the plug unilaterally. This way, with the RNC having now framed the issue as a test of the networks’ biases, when they go ahead and insist on airing the movies anyway, it’ll look like they’ve knowingly and willingly chosen to stick with Hillary boosterism than be neutral brokers in 2016. There’s some political value in that for Republicans, for this news cycle at least.

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