NBC and CNN Should Call Reince Preibus' Bluff

Quick catch-up for those who are behind: Reince Priebus (chairman of the RNC, and whose name makes me extra thankful for Google) has written an open letter to CNN and NBC threatening to boycott the networks from hosting any primary debates if they show the documentaries they are currently creating about Hillary Clinton. This, he says, is because CNN and NBC are “not in the business of promoting our party” (which apparently, they should be).

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel (unironically) suggested that Republican candidates should only debate each other at Fox News, because, ensconced in a safe bubble of Islamophobia, class hatred and paleo-racism, they can be more open, like your grandpa with his golf buddies. This he equates to the 2008 Democratic primary block-out of Fox News. “Be fair: This was the logic Democrats used to kill the Fox debate. They viewed the debate as an attempt to legitimize a network they saw as illegitimate,” Weigel wrote. Certainly the same logic, but not the same facts. NBC and CNN are boringly non-partisan. CNN accepts any conflict in an almost humorously postmodern way, and they regularly let Paul Ryan get away with decrying the $750 billion cuts to Medicare that he advocated for!

If CNN and NBC back down here, and refuse to play the documentaries, they’ll be accepting the old right wing drivel about how the “leftist,” “lamestream” media is out to destroy conservative values and aid Obama in an Islamic Socialist coup.

The truth, from essentially every source I can find, is that polarization in the U.S. is real, and it’s asymmetric. In every civilized nation, our Democratic party would be on the right. In Germany, the conservatives happily deal with unions; In Britain and France, the right would not even challenge the right to universal health care.

Priebus wants to pull CNN and NBC from the center. His goal, in his words, is to “control the referees." But that’s not what a political party should do. Maybe he’s confused because Fox News gladly regurgitates the Republican Party’s talking points, and assumes that’s what journalism is. It’s not.

I’d be happy to see Republicans debate exclusively on Fox News. The more the Republicans shout into an echo chamber of cantaloupe calves, forcible rape, makers and takers, we built this, and so on, the further away they get from the American public, and the sooner we can start working on ending the war on drugs, passing comprehensive immigration reform, dealing with the debt and ensuring universal health care. I don’t particularly like Democrats, but they’ve never held the nation’s sovereign debt on the line to guarantee a tax break for the richest .01% of the population.

If Priebus wants to marginalize his increasingly out-of-touch party, who are we to stop him? I say, go further! If NBC or CNN runs these documentaries, no Republican candidate should ever debate or appear on their stations.

To paraphrase Napoleon, “When a fool is digging his grave, don’t take away his shovel.”

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Sean McElwee

Sean McElwee is a Research Associate at Demos.

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