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August 07, 2013 12:11 PM Will A Miniseries Be Good For HRC?

By Ed Kilgore

In the furor over Reince Priebus’ demands that CNN and NBC cancel special programming about Hillary Clinton or lose their right to host Republican candidate debates in 2016, few people are making distinctions over the documentary CNN is planning, and the biopic miniseries under development by the entertainment branch of NBC. One who is making a distinction is MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, per this report from Politico’s Tal Kopan:

“For me, CNN, that’s what news networks do, they do documentaries on big political figures. I don’t see the CNN problem. If there’s a problem it’s actually, uh oh, it is actually more with NBC as far as if they do this splashy bio pic and it’s a beautiful biography of Hillary Clinton, that’s a bigger problem,” Scarborough said.
He noted, though, that NBC Entertainment, which is planning a miniseries starring Diane Lane as Clinton, is separate from NBC’s news operation.
“You and I and everybody on the set knows NBC Entertainment and NBC News are completely separate. NBC News probably doesn’t want NBC Entertainment to do this. But NBC Entertainment, they want viewers, they want ratings,” Scarborough said, saying a lot of people would watch a Clinton film.

But Scarborough appears to assume, like everybody else, that the miniseries will help HRC materially if she runs for president. I just don’t know about that.

It’s not like she needs help with name ID. More generally, a remarkably high percentage of Americans almost certainly knows her “story,” or at least the parts of her story that are likely to be highlighted in a biopic.

When HRC ran for president in 2008, I thought her biggest problem was that she had become—through no fault of her own—a pop culture icon as much as a politician. Everybody “knew” her, or though they “knew” her, and had formed impressions of her, positive and negative, that were very difficult to change. Through her Senate tenure, her 2008 campaign, and her subsequent service as Secretary of State, however, she managed to do something very difficult for someone in her position: reboot, or at least refine, her public image. She became a lot more than Bill Clinton’s First Lady, embattled symbol of all sorts of controversies involving marriage, morality and ideology.

A miniseries is likely to bring back that culture-war-and-tabloid optic of HRC the brave martyr or the sinister harridan, the ultimate marital survivor or Red Queen. Maybe that would be good for a presidential campaign—depending on how the writers and directors handle her “story”—but I wouldn’t just assume that to be the case. It is pretty clear she doesn’t really need the attention. So perhaps she should consider making it known she’s not any crazier about the project than is Priebus.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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