Monday, August 5, 2013

Hillary: the Movie, parts II and III...or how the 4th Estate deludes itself into thinking it's still special

At the end of last month, both CNN and NBC had "big news": they both announced plans to air treatments of Hillary Clinton's life story (or at least some portion thereof). NBC's news was probably a little bigger, given that the network is going with a full mini-series (CNN is just doing a movie) and has already cast Diane Lane in the role of the former Secretary of State/Senator/First Lady. Personally, I don't see it. But that's neither here nor there.

This would be just ho-hum news if it wasn't for the fact that everyone and his or her brother--particularly on the Left--is taking it as a given that Clinton will be the Democratic Party's 2016 nominee for President of the United States. True, she hasn't formally announced, but only a fool would question her intent at this point in time. So the question is, should these networks be running such movies/miniseries ahead of the actual election, during what will be--to some degree--campaign season?

The RNC certainly has a very clear opinion on the matter:
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote a letter to the heads of both networks to “express his deep disappointment” in their decision to either air a miniseries in NBC’s case or a movie in CNN’s, writing that the networks are “promoting former Secretary Hillary Clinton ahead of her likely candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. 
“As an American company, you have every right to air programming of your choice,” the letter reads. “But as American citizens, certainly you recognize why many are astounded at your actions, which appear to be a major network’s thinly veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.” 
The RNC says that the programs could not only hurt the 2016 Republican contenders but the 2016 Democratic candidates too.
There's no question that Clinton's life--even a small portion of it--has the makings of an interesting movie (though it was already turned into an incredibly boring book). And there's no question that the lives of other political leaders have received such treatments, sometimes even before a future election. Hell, CNN aired a documentary on Mitt Romney entitled Romney Revealed: Family, Faith & The Road To Power that aired just before the 2012 Elections. Of course, it was a documentary, was only an hour long, and few thought it benefited Romney in the least. The assumption here on the part of the RNC and others--with regard to the Clinton films--is that both will be panegyrics, both will portray Clinton in a wholly positive, if not openly heroic, light.

So again, allowing that this is exactly the case, is there something wrong with that?

My answer is simple: no. I mean, the offering up of both panegyrics and hit pieces by major media organizations is, in my mind, distasteful and low-rent but of course I quite obviously have different (okay, superior) moral and ethical standards than those of the people running CNN, NBC, or any other network. And of course, my little blog is not drawing in millions upon millions of viewers and/or readers; I'm certainly not making money hand over fist from advertisers (but feel free to click on a Google ad and make me a penny, if you so desire).

Having said this, that I see no inherent "wrongness" with the airing of a Hillary Clinton panegyric (let's face it, we all know this is what the NBC miniseries will be) just prior to a huge national election and her candidacy in the same. Yet I can't help but think of another movie about Ms. Clinton, one produced in 2007 and scheduled to air in 2008, just prior to the beginning of the primary season for the 2008 Election. The name of the film? Hillary: The Movie. The group responsible for producing it? The conservative NPO Citizens United. We all remember that name, don't we?

That begs the question, did the Citizens United decision pave the way for the upcoming Clinton movies on CNN and NBC? Despite how tempting it might be to jump to such a conclusion, the fact of the matter is that Federal election laws prior to the decision would not have prevented the making of these movies because of the special status enjoyed by media companies. Under the twin umbrellas of "news" and "commercial activity" they were--and still are--allowed to produce and broadcast pretty much anything they desire, irrespective of obvious partisan leanings. This was the basis of the FEC's refusal to prevent the release of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 in 2004:
The complainant alleged that the release and distribution of FAHRENHEIT 9/11 constituted an independent expenditure because the film expressly advocated the defeat of President Bush and that by being fully or partially responsible for the film’s release, Michael Moore and other entities associated with the film made excessive and/or prohibited contributions to unidentified candidates. The Commission found no reason to believe the respondents violated the Act because the film, associated trailers and website represented bona fide commercial activity, not “contributions” or “expenditures” as defined by the Federal Election Campaign Act.
This is a rarely remembered footnote in the Citizens United decision, but it is quite critical. For there was no question that the film Fahrenheit 911 was advocating against a particular candidate for office (George W. Bush), just as there was no question that the film Hillary: The Movie was doing the same. Yet somehow the first was legitimate--according to the government--while the second was not. The only significant difference between the two: the first had better funding (and was better made).

Yet following the Citizens United decision, commentator after commentator (along with four clueless members of the Court) told us how the Court's action was opening the floodgates, unleashing a torrent of money into the election process. But the big money was already there, as evidenced by films like Moore's and the two upcoming ones on Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, a piddly little film by an NPO was theoretically over the line, even though we all known it would have and did change nothing about the the 2008 election.

And remember, those commentators telling us why the Court was wrong, why the decision was dangerous, they're all drawing paychecks from big media companies.

Cheers, all.

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