The Campaign Spot

How Each Party Responds to TV Programming It Disdains

There is legitimate outrage over RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and his threatening response to NBC over their planned miniseries about Hillary Clinton. From Priebus’ letter to NBC:

Presenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to the nation.

The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest. Nowhere is this public interest obligation more apparent than in the duty of broadcasters to serve the civic needs of a democracy by promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas and events.

We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program. We look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Oh, wait, that’s not from Priebus. That’s a letter from Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Debbie Stabenow, Chuck Schumer, Byron Dorgan, to ABC over their made-for-TV docu-drama, “The Path to 9/11.”

Priebus’ move is to threaten to refuse to partner with NBC in 2016 primary debates or sanction primary debates they sponsor.

Apples and oranges? Well, the Hillary Clinton film is not finished yet, so it’s theoretically possible it could turn into a work that left, right and center agree is a fair, accurate, and balanced portrait of the woman widely believed to be the front-runner to be the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016. But… come on. You don’t sign Diane Lane to play Lady MacBeth

“The Path to 9/11″ featured certain scenes that were indeed wildly exaggerated dramatizations, i.e., Sandy Berger hanging up on CIA agent who has penetrated Osama bin Laden’s compound. The makers of “The Path to 9/11″ undoubtedly believed they were using dramatic license to depict a true set of circumstances, i.e., official hesitation to authorize the use of force in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. (More on the fights over that film here.) 

But conforming real-life events to fit the traditional narrative and tropes of a dramatic story what makes a docu-drama a docu-drama, and one of the most frustrating aspects of these films. Some real-life person gets turned into a hero or villain based upon a few scenes or lines of dialog, and the vast majority of the viewing audience will never pick up a nonfiction book or other materials to double-check the filmmakers’ portrayal. In most cases, the legend overtakes the truth; Bob Woodward’s source, Deep Throat, never said “Follow the money.” Yet he is best known for a line from a screenwriter’s imagination.

Given a choice, should political figures object to films by cutting off debate access or threatening their broadcast license? Sponsoring a presidential debate is a privilege; Reid’s threat cut straight to the heart of ABC’s entire existence. 

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