The necessity of objectivity
Nixing of Clinton documentary yields glimpse into state of media
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 00:10
Hillary Clinton’s story is not new by any means. She has been on the world stage for over 20 years now, and since 1992, has constantly held an exalted position of prominence. And today, that is one of her biggest political assets, as she is likely moving toward a presidential run in 2016.
But like all stories, Clinton’s changes over time. Understanding and meaning does not reveal itself all at once, but in increments at different phases. The Clintons know better than most people the ability one has to reshape their story – they have repeatedly reinvented themselves.
Now, as the former secretary of state seems to be in a stronger position than ever and is on hiatus from governmental and political work, the attention of filmmakers was inevitable. If there would ever be a time to make a documentary on the life of the woman who could potentially become the first female president before she were elected, that time would be now.
And that is what Charles Ferguson thought – the man was planning to direct a film of this sort for CNN. But now CNN and NBC (which was planning a miniseries) have backed away and are canceling the projects.
As young journalists interested in preserving the integrity of the profession, we think it was inappropriate for these networks to agree to air these programs under the conditions.
There is nothing wrong with doing an informative documentary piece on the life of Hillary Clinton. She is an important and transformative figure of her time. But we want to see balance from news outlets.
Fox News and MSNBC operate under decided political affiliations and ideologies. And in a recent New Yorker piece, “Twenty-Four-Hour Party People,” Kelefa Sanneh outlines how MSNBC learned to adopt Fox’s model (though with some alterations) due to its unprecedented success.
But CNN has remained more neutral. And NBC Nightly News has been agitated with its satellite channel MSNBC’s unabashedly progressive platform, as Nightly News tries to remain true to objective reporting.
The prospect of airing these Clinton projects on these networks was received with controversy – and with sensible reason. Would such films regarding a potential presidential candidate serve as promotional material coming out of news outlets that are supposed to act with complete objectivity?
Considering we don’t know what the films would be like – what their representation of Clinton would be – it is impossible to know.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, felt he knew. He vowed to boycott those networks for any Republican primaries in the 2016 presidential election – feeling the party could not work with a network that was helping facilitate its potential opponent’s campaign.
It is also impossible to know how much revenue these companies were expecting to earn. It is safe to assume, however, quite a lot. After all, business is business; but media outlets need to decide what kind of business they want to be in.
But that’s not why the networks decided to abandon the project. The pressure coming from Clinton supporters disrupted funding and caused the projects to dissipate.
The Clintons didn’t want these films to come to fruition, either.
“It’s a victory for the Clintons, and for the money machines that both political parties have now become,” Ferguson wrote for The Huffington Post. “But I don’t think that it’s a victory for the media, or for the American people.”
He is certainly right about one thing – this was no victory for the media.
The notion that the Clintons could be influencing what is effectively news coverage is troublesome.
As Robert Gibbs, former press secretary under President Obama, has maintained on “Meet The Press,” Clinton’s standing is better now than it has ever been and it would behoove her to stay out of the spotlight so she can sustain it as long as she can.
Engaging in political debate at this time would disenchant some people and alienate certain supporters.
Gibbs’ strategy may be right, and the Clintons may understand that, but if CNN thought a documentary on Clinton’s life was timely and necessary to inform the public, why does pressure from her supporters have this kind of leverage?
It would be natural to expect that the Clintons would push against this. After all, it has long been the job of politicians and political strategists to try and control public image; but it is unsettling to see that the producers and CNN would cave.
There is something wrong with the state of our media when candidates have the power to determine their own coverage.