The Right Thing In Spite Of Themselves: CNN And NBC Abandon Their Hillary Projects

Hillary Clinton, in her dreams...and Bill's...

Hillary Clinton, in her dreams…and Bill’s…

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.


Sources and Graphic: Hollywood Reporter 1, 2


9 thoughts on “The Right Thing In Spite Of Themselves: CNN And NBC Abandon Their Hillary Projects

  1. Honestly, I’m more worried about the GOP trying to use the debates as leverage to control content on CNN and NBC. Politicians trying to control the news in that manner is both a dangerous precedent and anti-Democratic. (Although I’d welcome FOX doing a more ideological debate, maybe allowing folks like Rush to ask a few questions.)

    As for the Hillary movie(s), I’m sure that if they had been made they would have been forgettable crap with no impact beyond that week’s news cycle. Studies have shown again and again that specific news events like candidate debates only rarely have an impact on elections, and they have to be really big (in the whole of the last presidential election, only two events – Obama’s horrible performance at the first debate, and Romney’s “47%” statement – actually seemed to have any impact on the polls that lasted more than two days).

    Given how hard it is for even real events to have any impact, it’s difficult for me to imagine a TV movie breaking through the noise to have a long-term impact.

    • The GOP’s boycott threat does have disturbing overtones, Barry, and it’s right to flag it. Such manipulations are well-entrenched in political gamesmanship—the Kennedys raised it to a high art form. I worked with a playwright who had two productions of a play based entirely on Cuban Missile Crisis transcripts, one at the Kennedy Center and one at the Pasadena Playhouse killed by Kennedy family threats—they didn’t like the fact that the play gave more credit to Khrushchev than the Camelot flame-keepers preferred.
      If CNN and NBC had any integrity, they would have told the GOP to go suck eggs. I doubt this was a factor in killing the two productions, but you never know. Really: who would WANT to broadcast those debates???

      • I hear where you’re coming from, and it’s a valid concern, but at the same time, I have to wonder what on earth the republicans can do about the debates, remembering that they were hideously slanted last campaign, and will likely continue to be so in the future. These networks planning this kind of propaganda is certainly do little to inspire confidence that those debate would be level playing fields, and I and others have long bemoaned the GOP’s willingness to tapdance in the minefields.

        I don’t know that there is a good solution here.

        • Especially in primary debates, I’d like to see more partianship. Why shouldn’t candidates in the GOP primaries face questions from solidly right-wing partisans? Why shouldn’t the Democrats have to face questions from solidly left-wing partisans?

          There are a couple of reasons I’d like to see this.

          One, primary voters are typically more partisan than average voters. Their views should be represented. Rush is more likely to ask questions that genuinely reflect the concerns of tea party voters than some empty suit from CNN is. Ditto for Melissa Harris Perry (say) and progressives.

          Two, I’m sick of right-wingers whining about media bias every time their candidates prove to be idiots. It is NOT biased or ‘gotcha’ to ask what magazines a candidate reads; and if a candidate can’t think fast enough on her feet to answer that question, it’s NOT the media’s fault. I’d really like to see your people being asked questions only by people with impeccable right-wing credentials, so that when some of your candidates inevitably give bad answers, you’ll be forced to actually accept some actual responsibility, rather than whining and blaming everything on the “biased’ media.

          Hey, remember when we were told that Obama being ahead in the polls was just another example of left-wing media bias, and fair and objective polling would show that Romney was winning? But if we compare the final polling numbers to the actual election outcome, we find that the polls were biased in Romney’s favor. This is an objective test case for right-wing claims of media bias – and it showed that the claims of bias, for this specific story at least, were absolutely unfair and untrue. Of course, being proven objectively wrong by facts probably won’t change anyone’s views.

          After the first debate, the media spent nearly ten days in a row going over Obama’s failure again and again. That’s fair enough – it was a legitimate news story, and Obama had the bad luck not to have any other big news stories come along to take the front spot. It’s also the closest that Romney came to winning the election. Why did the media do that, if its goal was to elect Obama?

          Basically, any news that is reported that doesn’t reflect well on Romney was taken as proof of left-wing media bias. In contrast, news that was reported but reflected poorly on Obama was never taken as proof of anything. That’s an obvious double-standard. In the one case we can objectively measure – the polling – what right-wingers claimed was left-wing bias was, if anything, biased in Romney’s favor. So the claim that the right wing is just poooor helpless victims of a biased media, and nothing bad that happens is ever the fault of (say) poor candidates or poor election strategy or simply of unpopular policy views, doesn’t seem to hold much water.

  2. Politicians trying to control the news in that manner

    Well, THAT was a gaffe on my part. Obviously, I should have written “trying to control the MEDIA in that manner,” not “the news.”

  3. My gut reaction is to agree with you, but then you had to pull in the Law & Order franchise.
    As long as there have been fiction writers (of literature and of theatrical drama and comedy) some portion of them have based their work on current events. Your beloved Gilbert & Sullivan did it often. The fact that the American public includes persons (apparently an impressive number of them) so stupid, uneducated, ill-informed, lazy, etc. that they cannot distinguish between actual journalism and fiction should not be blamed on nor should it limit artists.
    Yes, the news divisions of networks have an obligation to avoid dramatization during their programming. And when an entire network is devoted to journalism (as CNN allegedly is) then that duty extends to everything it does. “Networks,” in general, however, have no such duty when they are clearly presenting something other than journalism. The fact that you include what is clearly fiction (Law & Order) in a discussion of documentary/docudrama suggests that you, too, are blurring the line, though one cannot blame you when the very term “docudrama” does just that.
    “The documentary and 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. . . .“ So. No biographies of politicians who are running for office or persons otherwise active in politics. Right? Because the same argument can be made about a book. Or am I missing something?

  4. Jack, do you really think Hollywood cares what the Republican Party thinks or threatens? They will devour themselves.

    Hollywood has shown itself to be interested in one thing, and one thing only: $$$$. If a movie about an extremely popular President and First Lady released during his Presidency couldn’t earn a profit (Primary Colors), then the idea of a movie, even a cable movie has to be fraught with risk.

    It’s never about morality or ethics in Hollywood… In that manner they are very much aligned to both Democrats and Republicans.

    • It’s a common misconception – Hollywood cares little for money. Look at the top-grossing films of each season, and then look at the films that are tending to be released. There’s little correlation there. But wiser minds than mine have examined it. Have a look.

      • Hollywood cares little for money? Why, that perfectly explains why so many films are sequels, reboots, remakes, or adaptations. It’s not so that name recognition will drive extra ticket sales, it’s because movie makers just loved SAW so much that it deserved another sequel.

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