If CNN and NBC had any sense of responsibility, fairness and respect for the American political system, neither would have planned Hillary Clinton projects—CNN, a documentary, NBC, a “docudrama” mini-series—for the coming year, in which the controversial Ms. Clinton is expected to begin running for President of the United States. Neither deserves any credit for cancelling them now, after pundits and especially the Republican Party screamed foul, and foul it was.
There is no way either product could avoid making difficult content choices that would be inevitably influenced by such non-ethical considerations as entertainment value, ratings, political pressure, and artist bias. The documentary and the mini-series would necessarily distort fact and history, because so much of any contemporary figure’s life and career has yet to be objectively examined, and no more so than Hillary Clinton, as polarizing and mysterious figure as U.S. politics has ever produced, rivaling Richard Nixon and Aaron Burr.
Given the usual bias of Hollywood, the entertainment industry and the networks toward Democrats in general and Hillary in particular, it was reasonable for the GOP to dread that the projects would be campaign hagiographies disguised as “fact.” The Republicans announced that they would boycott both CNN and NBC for the 2015 Presidential debates if the projects weren’t scratched, but Democrats and Camp Clinton had reasons to be nervous too. How would these productions handle Whitewater? The intrigue at the Rose Law Firm? The mysterious files that turned up in the White House? The Vince Foster suicide?
What about Bill’s multiple infidelities? Hillary’s role in the Monica cover-up? Post Monica life with Bill? The rumors of bi-sexuality and an intimate relationship with Anthony Weiner’s wife (last I checked)? Was there a deal with Obama acquire the State appointment? What was her involvement in Benghazi? (I know it doesn’t make any difference what happened…)
Negotiating between the Scylla and Charybdis of ignoring Hillary’s abundant real and rumored warts, thus raising the specter of the documentary and mini-series acting as pro-Clinton campaign devices, or salaciously focusing on them while making juicy assumptions that are unproven or disputed, harming her image with voters (or perhaps acquiring their sympathy?) was impossible, and so obviously impossible that it should have been obvious when the projects were announced. But this is American television, remember, and it has engaged in irresponsible dramatizations of high profile murders while the cases were still active; it has put, for example, a President Bush look-alike in a lazy sitcom portraying him as an idiot while he was in office, and set out to destroy Sarah Palin with more than one highly negative portrayal. Through dramas like “Law and Order,” the networks have recklessly warped public perception of controversial current events with often-slanted fictionalizations of them that are, of course, “fictional and do not depict any actual person or event,” even though, oddly, they are also “ripped from the headlines.”
Do I think the networks have an ethical obligation to avoid dramatizing the lives of current and active American political figures? I sure do, just as I think they should stay out of ongoing criminal trials and controversies like the Trayvon Martin case, at least until they have cooled off (Law and Order SVU is preparing a show to tear off the scab of the Zimmerman trial in the current season). These productions can’t avoid distorting the American public’s comprehension of reality, which is tenuous at best anyway. NBC had announced, for instance, that actress Diane Lane would portray Hillary, for example. Lane is an immensely appealing and attractive actress (Hillary may have dreamed of looking like Diane Lane), who, like all well-known performers, carries the images and emotional characteristics of her previous roles into every new part she takes on In Lane’s case, she is a courageous heroine…a romantic, often mistreated lover…a gentle feminist with curves and sex appeal, and the kind of strong woman men fantasize about. (Yes, I love Diane Lane.) Such a choice alone tilts the perspective of the series, though virtually any casting choice would.
The only reasonable response to the demise of the two Hillary projects is “good riddance.” I seriously doubt that the inherent wrongness of them led to CNN and NBC’s decisions, though we will probably never know. The fact that they were considered at all tells us what we need to know about how much our major networks care about the integrity of the political process.