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GOP Votes to Ban Debates on NBC, CNN Over Hillary Clinton Projects

Hillary Clinton Conservation International - H 2013
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UPDATED: "We’re done putting up with this nonsense. There are plenty of other outlets," said RNC chairman Reince Preibus.

The Republican National Committee has voted to ban 2016 primary debates from CNN and NBC over the Hillary Clinton projects that are in the works at the two networks. The RNC's vote came at the organization's summer meeting in Boston. 

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"There are forces out there that want to divide our party. But we’re not going to let them get in the way of our mission -- whether they’re naysayers or news networks," said RNC chairman Reince Priebus in prepared remarks at the Boston meeting. "That’s why we said to the media, with a united voice, that a network that spends millions to spotlight Hillary Clinton is a network with an obvious bias. And that’s a network that won’t be hosting a single Republican primary debate."

The dustup between the RNC and the two networks began Aug. 5 when Priebus disclosed letters he had written to NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt and CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker. In them, he argued that a miniseries from NBC and a documentary from CNN would amount to free advertising for Clinton, a presumed 2016 presidential candidate. Priebus gave the networks until Aug. 14 to cancel the projects and said that failure to do so could result in them being frozen out of GOP debate coverage.

"We're done putting up with this nonsense. There are plenty of other outlets. We’ll still reach voters, maybe more voters. But CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors' networks," read Priebus' remarks on Friday.

In a statement, CNN criticized the RNC for acting in haste. 

"CNN Films, a division of CNN Worldwide, commissioned a documentary about Hillary Clinton earlier this year," reads the statement. "It is expected to premiere in 2014 with a theatrical run prior to airing on CNN. The CNN broadcast date has not been determined. This documentary will be a nonfiction look at the life of a former first lady and secretary of state. The project is in the very early stages of development, months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done. Therefore speculation about the final program is just that. We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it. Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that."

An RNC spokesman told Politico on Friday that the ban would include CNN Espanol, the Spanish-language channel of CNN, and also Telemundo, a Spanish-language channel owned by NBCUniversal.

For more than a week, Priebus has been drumming up support for his plan to blackball CNN and NBC with appearances on the Fox News Channel and elsewhere. The RNC also created an online petition demanding that the networks ditch their plans for Clinton programming, and it produced a video series called: "Will the Hillary Films Include …?" 

The online petition reads, in part: "CNN and NBC have both announced programming promoting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of her likely presidential campaign in 2016. These are clearly major networks' thinly veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election."

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On Friday, NBC's Greenblatt said: "The Hillary Clinton movie has not been ordered to production, only a script is being written at this time. It is 'in development,' the first stage of any television series or movie, many of which never go to production. Speculation, demands and declarations pertaining to something that isn't created or produced yet seem premature."

Meanwhile, Democrats pounced on the resolution Friday and also disparaged rumored plans that the GOP was seeking high-profile members of the conservative media to moderate Republican primary debates.

"Instead of modifying their policies to actually present smart solutions for middle class families, the only thing the GOP can unite behind is a plan to continue to limit the audiences -- and voters -- to whom they will communicate," read the Democratic National Committee statement. "Now with reports that they are looking to have Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin moderate their debates, it raises questions about whether the RNC will ever be serious about outreach, or if they will continue to speak to -- and for -- the fringes of their party."

E-mail: Paul.Bond@THR.com