UPDATE: CNN has received a new 2016: Obama’s America ad which the network has approved for air, a spokesperson said. The promo is a different cut than the previous disputed version. More to come…
PREVIOUS: The producer of the highest-grossing conservative documentary of all time claims CNN rejected the film’s ad because it was “too political.”
John Sullivan, executive producer and co-director of the breakout documentary 2016: Obama’s America, says the film’s ad has run on Fox News, MSNBC, Discovery Channel, A&E and other networks, but that it was turned away by CNN. “They rejected our ad, actually,” Sullivan told EW.com. “A really weird situation. That was really funny. They said it was ‘too political,’ which is very odd because we have no affiliation with any political party of any sort, or PAC, or anything of that nature.”
CNN (which, like EW, is owned by Time Warner) confirms the filmmakers submitted the ad, but denies the commercial was “rejected.” “CNN did not reject the ad,” a network spokesperson said. “We asked them to explain why they believe the ad is not subject to political advertising disclosure requirements, and we did not hear back from them with any explanation.”
The network’s concern was a Federal Election Commission rule that states any telecast advocating for the election or defeat of a federal candidate must have its funding source revealed in a disclaimer notice (“Paid for by…”). Such notices are standard on political ads, yet might be unprecedented for a popular theatrical film. An MSNBC spokesperson said the commercial ran without a disclaimer, like a regular movie ad. “The ad was approved through NBC News standards and practices before air,” an MSNBC spokesperson said.
Sullivan says his $2.5 million production, which has earned $9.4 million since its debut seven weeks ago, was financed by a “a broad base of investors,” including “business Democrats and Republicans,” and that no corporation funded the film. “There’s no grand investor conspiracy here,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan hopes that a second 2016: Obama’s America ad that’s being submitted to media outlets will be approved by CNN, though sources say the news network hasn’t received it yet. “Hopefully we’ll be up on CNN next week,” Sullivan says. “They haven’t approved it yet. So, if anything, they’re ‘too political,’ is what I would say.”
This isn’t the first time a political documentary polemic during an election year has a prompted debate over whether its commercials qualify as political ads. Michael Moore’s 2004 film Fahrenheit 9/11 faced similar concerns. Obama’s America makes an argument against reelecting the president, though has come under fire by fact checkers. — Grady Smith contributed to this report