Reince Priebus to CNN: GOP Can 'Move On' Without You In 2016

RNC chair Reince Priebus went on CNN on Tuesday and castigated the network for "promoting" Hillary Clinton and her "cult of personality" before the 2016 election. CNN films will be producing a documentary on Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.

On OutFront, Priebus explained, "we ought not have moderators and companies that are in the business of promoting a Democratic opponent three years before an election." He later told host Erin Burnett that the GOP could "move on" without partaking in a 2016 primary debate hosted by CNN. "The sun doesn't rise and set with CNN and NBC," he asserted.

Priebus had already threatened that the GOP would boycott any 2016 presidential debate hosted by CNN and NBC, since both networks are in the process of making films about Clinton. He explained his reasoning to Burnett.

"The fact is, if your company is so interested in spending millions of dollars in promoting Hillary Clinton when they know darn well that Hillary Clinton and the people around her are gearing up for a presidential election, then that is a choice that as a news agency that's trying to be, or at least claims to be fair, ought to stop in their tracks and start to think about what the effects of that are. If you don't care, if CNN doesn't care, that's fine. Then, I don't care either. We move on without CNN and we move on without NBC. It's pretty simple. There's plenty of media out there for us to work with."

Burnett pushed back that the film might be critical of Clinton, and that Republicans enjoyed plenty of coverage in 2012 with over 20 primary debates. She argued that the party would just be left with Fox if it boycotted CNN and NBC.

"You have FOX, you have PBS, you have ABC, you have CBS, you have a lot of other channels on cable. We can do Salem Communications. We can do radio. We can do town halls. We can do Lincoln-Douglas debates. The sun doesn't rise and set with CNN and NBC," responded Priebus.

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on Erin Burnett OutFront on August 6 at 7:34 p.m. EDT:

ERIN BURNETT: Our fourth story OutFront: the GOP versus CNN and NBC. You heard me right. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is threatening both networks, saying his party won't participate in a 2016 primary debate on either network if the networks don't drop plans for programs about possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Joining me now is Reince Priebus. And good to see you as always, Reince.

You know, and let me just start, obviously, this is CNN. So, you know, you're on CNN. I work for CNN. Here at CNN, the program that we're talking about comes from the CNN Films division. Not the news arm that I'm an employee of, and obviously at NBC, I know it's a similar idea. What's your specific problem with the films?

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC chairman: Well, you know, Erin I just think that groups like NBC and CNN that are in the business of news ought to take in consideration the fact that if you want to actually moderate and produce a debate that chooses a nominee for president on the Republican side of the aisle, that it would be reasonable to have the chairman of the party say hang on a second. You ought not be doing feature films or documentaries and mini-series about what we know to be a very likely candidate that is running on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Look, CNN and NBC can do what they want to do. That's their right. But it is also my right, Erin, as chairman of the party, to say if you go forward with this, then I'm going to choose not to include you in the debate process and the moderating of our primary debates in our party. I think this is a reasonable thing for me to be doing. And I think it's actually something that a chairman of a national party ought to be doing given the situation.

BURNETT: So, let me just ask you this, because here's what I know about the CNN documentary. And, of course, again, I'm not going to talk for NBC because I don't know, and obviously I don't work for CNN Films either. But I know that they commissioned a feature-length documentary – important word – on Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the director of it is an Academy Award-winning director. I know, Reince, you're well-aware of this, Charles Ferguson.

Now, Ferguson also made the film, "Inside Job", some of our viewers may be familiar with. And a review of that film in The Nation, which as you're well aware as a liberal magazine said, his film attacks the Bush administration and offers an equally scathing evaluation of President Obama. So, a liberal man said the man who made CNN's Hillary doc slammed a Democratic president. I know you've called the CNN Film though an in kind donation to the Clinton campaign. How do you know, though, that this documentary by CNN Films might not actually be really nasty about Hillary and therefore helpful for the RNC?

PRIEBUS: Actually, Erin, I don't think it matters. I don't think it matters if it's really negative or really positive. I think presidential elections are largely elections that go to the point of popularity. I think it's a cult of personality that's being built. And if Hillary Clinton runs, which it looks like she's gearing up to, then she will just build up her campaign, use the fact that news networks are building up her name, even if it's negative. Unless you're an idiot like Anthony Weiner, generally, I will tell you, generally, Erin, these are positive developments for candidates. It builds up that cult of personality. And CNN is going to play a role in it.

And I don't think you should. I don't think your network should be playing a role in building up Hillary Clinton. If Hillary doesn't run, then they'll have plenty of time to run all the documentaries in the world about Hillary Clinton. So, you – CNN doesn't have to proceed right now.

BURNETT: What about, though, the bigger issue that you're facing, because there is context here, Reince. People might say, look, what you're saying makes a lot of sense. Then there's this. In 2012 the GOP had 20 televised primary debates. By the way, that was kind of insane.

PRIEBUS: Yeah, ridiculous.

BURNETT: It was too many. And your candidates had some horrific moments, I'll just play a couple of them.

(Video Clips)

Gov. RICK PERRY (R-Tex.): I would do away with the Education, the – Commerce, and let's see -- I can't. The third one, I can't, the third one I can't. Sorry. Oops.

MITT ROMNEY (R), former presidential candidate: Rick, I'll tell you what, 10,000 bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?

PERRY: I'm not in the betting business.

(End Video Clips)

BURNETT: Obviously, those were not good moments, right? We all know that. But you don't want as many debates next time. So, a critic might say, look, you're getting a nice way to feed your base going out against liberal media, when what you're really accomplishing is cutting out 20 debates that, you know – I mean, more than half of them would go away if you cut out CNN and NBC.

PRIEBUS: Well, look. There's plenty of people and groups out there that would love to host our debates. And the fact is, what you're showing here is making our case. That we ought not have moderators that are in the business of making news at the expense of our party and our candidates moderate our debates.

And moreover, we ought not have moderators and companies that are in the business of promoting a Democratic opponent three years before an election. So, I mean, you're making our case, which is number one, NBC and CNN ought to halt their promotional movies of Hillary Clinton. If they don't want to do that --

(Crosstalk)

BURNETT: Because you're saying if we air anything on Hillary Clinton, even if it is nasty, it's promoting her, right?

PRIEBUS: It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. The fact is, if your company is so interested in spending millions of dollars in promoting Hillary Clinton when they know darn well that Hillary Clinton and the people around her are gearing up for a presidential election, then that is a choice that as a news agency that's trying to be, or at least claims to be fair, ought to stop in their tracks and start to think about what the effects of that are. If you don't care, if CNN doesn't care, that's fine. Then, I don't care either. We move on without CNN and we move on without NBC. It's pretty simple. There's plenty of media out there for us to work with.

BURNETT: There are, and of course if you got rid of CNN and you got rid of NBC, that would leave you with -- when it come to the primaries, obviously, the vast majority of them are on cable so you'd have a lot possibly on FOX. But that's why I wanted to ask you about this, right?

PRIEBUS: You have FOX, you have PBS, you have ABC, you have CBS, you have a lot of other channels on cable. We can do Salem Communications. We can do radio. We can do town halls. We can do Lincoln-Douglas debates. The sun doesn't rise and set with CNN and NBC. Listen, Erin, I like you. I don't have a problem with you. But this is easy to understand.

BURNETT: But what about in 2005? A&E ran an adaptation of John McCain's autobiography. He was widely seen as a candidate. He then ran. Obviously it was a GOP presidential candidate. You didn't boycott then. And A&E is owned by ABC.

PRIEBUS: Listen, I can't – listen, I can't – I was a candidate for state senate, I think, back then. Listen, I can't speak to the past. What I can speak to is that we had, number one, a 23-debate traveling circus in our party a year and a half ago. Number two, we had moderators that did not have the best interests of our party and our nominees at heart. And number three, we've got two major networks that are spending million of dollars and attracting pretty high level actresses to be part of these movies.

And I'm not going to sit around as party chairman and just act like nothing's wrong. I mean, this is not right, Erin. And I'm just saying I've had it with this stuff and I'm going to try to do something about it.

BURNETT: Final question Reince, before I let you go. In the 2008 Democratic primary season, the candidates decided to skip a debate held by Fox News, the Democrats. So, then the debate was canceled. And Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said this.

(Video Clip)

ROGER AILES, Fox News chairman: Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can black list any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalists. And any candidate of either party who can not answer direct, simple, even tough questions from any journalist runs a real risk of losing the voters.

(End Video Clip)

BURNETT: I don't know what my boss Jeff Zucker would say,  but it sounds like he might say exactly what Roger Ailes is saying.

PRIEBUS: Not at all. Not at all. That's the difference between – Roger Ailes didn't say any candidate that doesn't appear before CNN or NBC or any news outlet isn't fit to serve. These candidates can come on your show every night if they want to, Erin. And they can take all the tough questions in the world.

The question is, if the party is going to spend time and money and resources on organizing an intelligent and reasonable debate calendar, should we have networks and moderators that are promoting Hillary Clinton depose our candidates? And I say no way.


 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014