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Hillary Clinton, RNC and freedom of the press

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican National Committee chief angry CNN and NBC plan programs on Hillary Clinton
  • Dean Obeidallah: Reince Priebus told networks to pull programs or GOP won't do debates
  • Priebus said party must "stand up to networks not in the business of promoting our party"
  • Obeidallah: Move violates freedom of the press, but GOP calls itself freedom's protector

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- How can the leader of the Republican Party -- the political party that claims to be so concerned about our freedoms -- want to limit freedom of the press?

It's shocking, but that's exactly what Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wants to do. Why? Because Priebus is outraged that NBC and CNN are developing TV projects about Hillary Clinton, scheduled to air in 2015.

Apparently, Priebus thinks most Americans have never heard of this Hillary Clinton person. Consequently, he fears that these TV shows could make her a household name -- almost as well-known as say, Bill Clinton.

So what did he do? He sent threatening letters to the heads of NBC and CNN, informing them that "if you have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC's summer meeting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote of the RNC stating that the committee will neither partner with you in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates which you sponsor."

Bottom line: Priebus is telling media outlets that if they broadcast content that the Republican Party does not like, it will freeze those networks out of the 2016 GOP presidential debates.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

This is the same Priebus who wrote an article denouncing President Barack Obama for what Priebus called his attack on American freedoms. And it was Priebus who, during the 2012 presidential election, predicted that if Obama were re-elected, he would destroy our "way of life in America" and that "Mitt Romney has to win for liberty and freedom."

Let's make one thing very clear: The RNC is not just another run-of-the-mill organization threatening a boycott over media content. The RNC includes elected officials from across the nation, from governors to state officials to hundreds of members of Congress.

Will the next threat be that the RNC will block interviews with Republican officials if it objects to a newspaper, website or network's content? Or will some outlets be subject to greater fines for Federal Communications Commission violations or be kept from offering input on proposed federal regulations that affect the media?

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GOP leaders in war of words

We cannot allow the freedom of our media to be politicized. If the Democratic National Committee had issued a similar threat to any media outlet planning to air a TV special about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, I would be adamantly opposing its conduct as well. This is truly something that should unite all media outlets -- from MSNBC to Fox News and everyone in between.

Unfortunately, it appears that not everyone in the media sees it this way.

On Monday night, Sean Hannity welcomed Priebus on his Fox News show and applauded his proposal. And Priebus -- in a candid moment -- made it clear it was time for the Republican Party to "stand up to networks not in the business of promoting our party and not in the business of promoting our candidates." In essence, Priebus wants every media outlet to be like Fox News or suffer the consequences.

CNN, NBC move forward on Hillary Clinton projects

As the late Justice Hugo Black noted in one of the most famous U.S. Supreme Court decisions on freedom of the press, "the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors."

NBC and CNN should not buckle to the RNC's attempt to silence content if it does not approve. In fact, they should produce even more Hillary Clinton programs -- maybe a reality show, "Keeping Up With the Clintons," or a series simply called "Hillary!"

And Fox News is, of course, free to air "Dancing With the Marco Rubios."

If ever an issue should unite Republicans, Democrats and independents, it's this one. We need to make it clear to Priebus that political parties must not try to limit the freedom of our media. Such a proposal is not only dangerously wrong, it's an affront to the very spirit of our Constitution.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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