Just How Smart is a Peacock?
The recent dust-up among the National Broadcasting Company, CNN, and the Republican National Committee is an interesting exposé of the thought processes (or perhaps the lack of thought process) within one of the three major TV networks, and a leading cable news outlet.
NBC had announced that they were going to produce a four-part, four-night mini-series about the current presumptive Democrat nominee for the presidency in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
CNN also announced that they were preparing a film concerning Clinton for theatrical release in the same way that Hollywood releases films.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has threatened NBC and CNN with not allowing either corporation to broadcast the Republican primary debates in 2016 if either goes forward with its respective Hillary project.
At first glance, it doesn't seem like much of a threat. "Hey, if you don't kill these movies, we're going to deny you the chance to broadcast the most boring 90 minutes of television since the Iowa grass-growing tournament!"
Even reliably liberal commenters such as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times agreed with Priebus (although she also said that threatening to withhold participation in the primary debates was "goofy" and "petulant"). The liberal non-profit Media Matters for America also chimed in with a statement that supported Priebus's position. David Brock, the founder of Media Matters, agrees with Priebus that the projects raise fairness questions.
So congratulations are due to NBC for being the first major media company to shoot itself in its corporate foot. NBC has only a limited number of options:
1. They could cancel their plans and kill the idea. That's a non-starter for any of the egos involved at NBC.
2. They could show the film as they planned but, in a fit of pique, create an even more hagiographic film than they had originally planned. After all, the actress that has been chosen to portray Hillary is Diane Lane, who obviously was chosen because of her close resemblance to the former first lady.
3. NBC could, in a moment of caution, present a narrative somewhat less flattering to Ms. Clinton.
Any one of the three choices has a significant downside risk to NBC.
Not only would killing the whole thing be destructive to the egos at NBC headquarters, but the Democrats would catch fire if their presumptive nominee didn't get four hours of free favorable publicity.
Creating an even more favorable narrative, stopping just short of showing Hillary in a Rambo-like rampage doing her best to save the people in Benghazi, would not only incinerate Republicans and independents, but in fact make her a laughingstock. And the reaction of the Clintons and the DNC doesn't bear contemplating.
Rewriting the script for the putative mini-series to more accurately reflect Hillary's "accomplishments" would have exactly the same impact as doing their best to make her look like a cross between Warren Burger and Mother Theresa, except reverse the reactions of the left and the right.
So, let's all cheer NBC on! How often do we get to see any major organization carefully position itself into a lose-lose-lose scenario?
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller and a two-tour Vietnam veteran. He writes frequently about political idiocy, business and economic idiocy, and American cultural idiocy. Jim also blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.