CNN scraps Hillary Clinton documentary, and director blames Clintons

'Nobody ... was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans,' blogged Charles Ferguson, whom CNN contracted to make the documentary about Hillary Clinton.

Carolyn Kaster/ AP Photo/ File
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks about Syria in the South Court Auditorium on the White House Complex in Washington on Sept. 9, 2013. The filmmaker who was making a documentary about Hillary Clinton for CNN says he is backing out of the project because few people would cooperate with him.

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously in August to ban CNN and NBC from hosting or sponsoring Republican primary debates if either network proceeded with plans to air programs about Hillary Rodham Clinton, the early favorite among potential Democratic candidates for president in 2016.

CNN was planning a documentary about Mrs. Clinton, and NBC had a fictional miniseries about the Clintons in the works.

On Monday CNN Films canceled its plans after the documentary film's Academy-Award-winning director, Charles Ferguson, said he would no longer continue with the project, CNN Worldwide spokeswoman Allison Gollust told Politico

In a tweet from the RNC’s account, Republicans claimed CNN’s cancellation a victory of “grassroots efforts.”

But, writes Mr. Ferguson in a blog entry for the Huffington Post, it was the virtual omerta around the Clinton family rather than threats of an RNC boycott that ultimately led to the film’s cancellation.

“When I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film,” Ferguson explains with a palpable tone of frustration. “Not Democrats, not Republicans – and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration.” 

According to Ferguson’s article, he signed a contract with CNN to make the documentary late last year and was then contacted by Nick Merrill, Hillary Clinton’s press secretary a day later. The Clinton camp continued to dig for information about Ferguson’s documentary, the director writes, pushing Ferguson to “clear the air” about rumors of the film.

In late July 2013, CNN formally announced it was producing the documentary, several days after NBC said the network was planning a four-hour miniseries based on the life of Hillary Clinton. (The miniseries will feature Diane Lane as Hillary Clinton. Neither Bill nor Chelsea has been cast yet, according to reports.)

Both networks drew immediate ire from the RNC. The chairman, Reince Priebus, called both projects thinly veiled attempts to put a “thumb on the scale” for the 2016 election, and issued his ultimatum to CNN and NBC: drop the Clinton-shows, or the RNC would not allow the two networks to host, or sponsor Republican primary debates. Mr. Priebus’s statements, and the RNC’s subsequent endorsement of his threat, did not deter either network.

From across the aisle, David Brock, a Clinton-supporter and chief of the left-leaning Media Matters for America, also voiced opposition to Ferguson’s planned documentary in an open letter.

“My concern was that there would be potentially an anti-Clinton animus to this film and what [Ferguson] wrote in The Huffington Post today shows that I was right,” Mr. Brock told the New York Times on Monday.

Mr. Ferguson contributed more than $30,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2008, which helped finance Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, according to the Times.

The film’s cancelation is “a victory for the Clintons, and for the money machines that both political parties have become,” wrote Ferguson, who said in his Huffington Post blog that he had planned in the documentary to explore how the Clintons had built up the personal wealth and attracted powerful donors to the Clinton Foundation.

This is not the first time a documentary about Hillary Clinton has come under scrutiny. In 2008, the conservative advocacy group, Citizens United, made “Hillary: The Movie,” featuring a cast of right-wing commentators that wade through a myriad of alleged Clinton scandals.

The Federal Election Commission placed restrictions on the film’s advertisements during the 2008 election season on the grounds that it violated the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act. The FEC said the film was effectively a 90-minute campaign advertisement against Clinton.

Citizens United then went on to sue the FEC in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Supreme Court’s subsequent landmark decision allows unrestricted federal political campaign funding. 

NBC, meanwhile, has not yet announced the date that its series would air; the project has not yet been ordered into production. 

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