The not-ready-for-prime-time Clinton

That would be Chelsea, daughter of Hillary and Bill, who made her debut as a television correspondent last night on NBC, first on the “Nightly News” and later on “Rock Center.”

The Anchoress has a pretty thoughtful review over at her joint, with links to other reactions from around the blogosphere.   You can watch Chelsea Clinton’s report here.

I have to say this: I was staggeringly unimpressed.  And more than a little annoyed.

Broadcasting is an intensely collaborative medium, so it’s hard to discern how much of her report was actually done by her, how much was written/rewritten by her producer, and how much was artfully sewn together by a video editor with a wizard-like mastery of Final Cut Pro.

But based on what we could discern — her on camera presence and off-camera read — Chelsea seems uncomfortable and ill-equipped for being a broadcaster.  Her personality and demeanor don’t invite you to listen; her bland affect instead says “Look away.  Nothing to see here.  Move on.  Keep moving.”  (She’s one of the few people I’ve seen in television whom I might actually describe as “disengaging.”)    She seems a good listener, but not a good talker; this only becomes worse when she’s paired with someone like Brian Williams — who is every bit as poised and polished and professional as she isn’t.   And she is burdened with a voice that is sadly, drearily inexpressive.  She needs training.  Lots of training.  And practice.  And experience.

That may come.  But I can’t escape the unnerving feeling that, professionally or personally, this is someone who just hasn’t earned this, and probably never thought about a career in television until a few weeks ago.   Across three decades in this business, I’ve seen too many resume reels from people a lot better: bright, eager reporters her age who have covered fires, listened to police scanners, stood in the rain outside a hospital, called up grieving widows to ask “What are you thinking?”  They have sacrificed holidays and weekends to sit through school board meetings, lived off bad coffee and stale sandwiches, endured stakeouts during blizzards and live shots during hurricanes and gone without relationships and children and a decently furnished apartment just to have the kind of opportunity now handed on a prime time platter to a marginal talent like Chelsea.

It ain’t right.  And that’s sad.  But ’twas ever thus.  I’m reminded of something another child of privilege said 50 years ago.  “Life,” explained John Kennedy, “isn’t fair.”

And so it goes.

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45 responses to “The not-ready-for-prime-time Clinton”

  1. This whole awkward misadventure only makes sense if she has decided to enter politics. This is the beginning of her ramping up for that. The Clintons saw how woefully unprepared Caroline Kennedy was and thus we have nbc’s newest special correspondent.

  2. Could not have said it better. More proof that the official American ideology of being a pure meritocracy is just bunk.

  3. The ratings will tank (lower), the advertisers will run, the show’s credibility will sink (lower) and at the end of the day, they’ll reap what they sow. From the same company that hired “Reverend” Al. The shameless are amazing.

  4. I did not see the broadcast, so I am in no position to judge her abilities. They whole situation seems somewhat suspect, however, when you look at the resume. A BA in History, a $300,000+ job fairly soon after graduation with a Wall St hedge fund and now this. It seems to be “ticket punching”, with exposure to big $$ and a national audience. I agree with the other comments: Look for a political bid in the next few years.

  5. The media under President Clinton shielded Chelsea and under President Obama the media has shielded his daughters. Yet, the media and the left savaged the Bush daughters and went out of their way to embarrass the family.

  6. Jack:
    To be “fair and balanced”
    Chelsea Clinton has achieved
    – a M.Phil in international relations from Oxford University in 2003
    – a Master of Public Health from the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University in 2010

    Presently, she is pursuing a doctorate at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University.

    Of course, that still does not mean that she has the background or talent to qualify her for a position in broadcast journalism.

  7. George is right. They went after the Bush girls with a vengeance, catching every tipsy moment and stumble.

    By now it must be surpassingly obvious to all fair people everywhere that MSNBC, CNN, ABC and CBS are all mouthpieces of the DNC.

  8. I don’t know about that, George.

    The Bush daughters were significantly older when W was elected: they were both 19, old enough to vote and drink and embarrass themselves in public.

    Chelsea and the Obama girls were all MUCH younger. Their parents worked to keep them out of the spotlight as much as possible — and because the girls were minors, the media complied.

    Dcn. G.

  9. What’s obvious to me is that Americans are sick to death of homegrown political dynasties of any stripe, size or affiliation. If we wanted hereditary royalty, we’d still be a British colony.

  10. It’s no secret that NBC is for the most part, the “campaign arm” of the Democratic Party. Personally, I don’t care. I don’t watch TV, but I was glad to get a peek at the clip. Dcn. Greg I know you are the expert in such things, but to an outsider like myself, I found Chelsea rather refreshing, far more than another “dues paid bleached blond with big lips and near perfect legs.” At least she didn’t look like another robot.

    That said, I agree with the others that is the start of Chelsea Clinton for public office.

  11. Deacon Greg is correct — the Bush daughters WERE adults at that point. They DID do what was reported. Like it or not they were in the public spotlight and as adults should have had enough common sense and self control to not act as they did.

    Also, fair or not, children of prominent people are mostly expected to be role models, which is another tough parenting job.

  12. Deacon Greg Kandra,

    Working for the anti-catholic MSM @CBS is nothing to rave about.
    You no good bum.


  13. Thought of Maria Shriver who did not want anything handed to her and paid her dues, starting out at local stations including KYW-TV in and WJZ-TV in Baltimore. Wish Ms. Clinton had done the same (and hired a vocal coach! The Anchoress is dead on about her vocal problems)

  14. For many years there has been a show on the radio in the morning called Rambling With Gambling, which has been a staple of my morning listening for most of my life. My grandmother used to listen to the patriarch, John B. Gambling. I grew up listening to his son, John A. Gambling. At WOR Radio the Gamblings were radio royalty, at least here in NYC. But when John R. decided to follow in the family business he had to first hone his craft in the nowhere podunk towns that reached fewer people than most peoples’ Twitter accts. and paid as much as most bloggers. Broadcasting is a profession, whatever you may think of individuals in the business, and when a total amateur tries to fit in with those for whom this is their life all their shortcomings only become magnified. But who knows? Maybe she just wants to be this generation’s George Plimpton.

  15. I’m going to see if I can watch a rerun of this as I missed it. I do agree that there seems to be a Stepford syndrome when it comes to female reporters — especially on one certain network and it is not CBS. I always thought Jenna Bush seemed very likable when she appeared on televsion. Thanks for this article.

  16. For what it is worth, Chelsea Clinton was age 12-20 during the years she lived in the White House, so she was an adult during the last 2 years and still go the hands off treatment.
    In England, when she went to school, there were tons of pictures of her at nightclubs, looking very drunk —these were all over the London papers—but nothing reorted here.
    In other words, even as an adult she got the hands off treatment by the press.

  17. I dont see any one complaint about Sarah Palin, oh I forgot different political party they don have to by the same rules..

  18. About those better reporters who the connected Chelsea has been able to leapfrog, the former’s willingness to contact “…grieving widows to ask “What are you thinking?” itself hardly engenders sympathy; no, the case is quite the opposite.

  19. Obviously Bill and Hillary are calling in some political chips. That said, it shows utter contempt for the audience to unleash less than mediocre talent on them. I once heard an old radio personality say that the secret to success in the business is to remember that one has an audience, not disciples.

  20. The Clintons did work to keep them out of the spotlight until they needed to look like a family for a photo op or two. On the whole, I think they did a pretty good job with Chelsea. Could not have been an easy childhood with Bills zipper problems every so often.

    I think all the kids should be given space for those in public office unless they are bounced out for the use of the political hack to get into office. It seems like we hear little about the Obama girls unless Obama is getting in trouble and then they talk about their girls as when asking about the oil spill and how dad is going to fix it or taking them swimming in the gulf, but not around the spill in a photo op. The rule should be don’t use them if you want them protected for scrutiny. One might also wonder why vouchers were blocked to help the DC school parents have some options by the president and his party, while they sent their kids to private schools?

    However, there is no doubt that if Chelsea was not the product of Bill and Hillary, she would not have been on the tube or given the swank job on wall street. I thought the democrats hated folks who work on wall street like her? However, all parents try to do whatever they can legally and ethically to help their kids get ahead so I don’t blame the Clintons from pulling strings unless the strings were given to gain benefit.

  21. You are right. Was wondering if someone was going to point that out. Nice to look at how Bill was handling being a parent around the blue dress when Chelsea was in very critical years for a young woman.

  22. Gee Don, amazing you would bring up Palin. I do not know of anyone who as a person and family were trashed more by the media. If Obama got the same treatment as Palin from day one, he would not have been president.

    And since the media trashed all the kids, even the newborn kid, seems like only fair play to let them branch out. When they have, the coverage and attacks have been brutal. I think the kids did a better job day one that Chelsea did with all her exculusive schooling and handling and protection on this broadcast.

  23. Deacon,

    While I respect your opinion, given your professional credentials (and I don’t necessarily think you’re wrong), I can’t help feeling that you were a bit harsh. Your post seems to have invited slightly nastier bites from your readers.

    I’m glad there’s not video of my first day on the job. I know, I KNOW she’s an on air personality – but, come on, it’s not like she turned up next to Richard Engel (God protect him) in Kabul – she’s covering “Making a Difference” stories.

    Good on her for going obviously outside her comfort zone and telling a story about an organization trying to make the lives of kids better:

  24. Don Palin DOES have a Journalism/Communication Degree, not that I think it counts for much in terms of skills and comfort in front of the camera.

    In addition, and unlike Chelsea who wouldn’t even talk to the press, Palin was a public figure for years, starting with mayor or her home town to state governor.

    Even despite all of the above, few could deny that Palin is a “natural” in front of the camera, which counts more than anything, along with her blessed good looks. Regardless if I like or disliked Palin, if I had a network, she would be one of the first I would go after to sign on.

  25. What I wonder about is this Deacon Greg Kandra and what his (her?) motives are that he would, first off, pick the most unflattering picture of the young lady after the entire interview showed what a nice looking woman she turned out to be. Then he does his very best to trash her for what? Who is impressed that this guy (or gal) is criticizing someone from the left ?
    Could it be the right got their noses tweaked by the public flack over Mrs. Palin’s lack of qualifications for anything but a ratings war?
    yuck yuck.

  26. Deacon Greg,

    You’re beginning to sound a lot like Father Z…bordering on a pernicious rant. How about a little charity?

  27. So, no one can think she did bad? And it is trash talk and a right-wing conspiracy? Really? Please.

  28. Dcn. G

    You forgot about how the media continued to shield Chelsea Clinton when she was on the campaign trail for Hillary and while Chelsea was no longer a minor.

    “In April 2008, Politico’s Amie Parnes described how longtime Hillary Clinton adviser Philippe Reines shielded Chelsea on the trail. When sharp-elbowed television reporters manage to slip through the crowd and face Clinton, he reaches out his arm to shield the 28-year-old surrogate, points to the side of the room like a stone-faced traffic cop and tells the reporters, “I’ll talk to you over there.” Far from Chelsea.

    Since Clinton doesn’t speak to reporters, Reines is her voice. When inquiring minds approach Clinton to say hello, she has been known to say, “Have you met Philippe?”

    “If I wasn’t paid to talk to reporters, I wouldn’t, either,” said Reines, who has become the surrogate’s surrogate in the face of growing criticism that the campaign is protecting her like a child. “Chelsea smartly knows that if she gives an inch of her privacy, she loses a foot.””

    Face it, it’s called hypocrisy.

    What about Sara Palin’s minor children being savaged even to the point where you had main stream reporters questioning in print if Trig was even her child.

    The Obama’s dragged their girls on the trail, had them on the stages, and at campaign events just like Sarah. I can provide the links to the multiple events if you wish. One family got the courtesy of protection and the other didn’t.

  29. So chlesea was off limits for 32 years, including 19 and 20 while her father was still president, but Trig, and the minor Palin girls are fair game. Sure, that’s fair. No bias here nothing to see, please move along.

  30. George:

    If the media was handling Chelsea with kid gloves (pun intended), it wasn’t in that snip you provided. It seems clear, from that report, that it wasn’t the media who shielded Chelsea, it was Hillary’s handler Philippe Reines — and the media, hungry for soundbites from the junior Clinton, found the isolation frustrating. There was “growing criticism that the campaign is protecting her like a child.”

    Dcn. G.

  31. Complaining about 1 job. Next thing you know, all this talk among conservatives about fair will land them in the camp of the 99.

    Tacky post and commentariat. Who cares?

  32. Great post Deacon Kandra. Indeed Chelsea is a daughter of privilege, the heir of the darlings of the American elite and she has the world handed down on a gold platter to her. I don’t know her or her moral character; she might be a wonderful person, but there is no doubt that a 300K salary, a high profile job with no experience, is all due to her parents political clout and the media trying to please a possible future president Hilary. She has all that the world can offer, money, power, influence. Indeed those who wear soft clothing live in royal palaces, but what did you go out to see?

  33. First off, journalism is not a great profession. It’s entertainment. If Chelsea can learn to speak then I have no problem with it.

  34. First off, journalism is not a great profession. It’s entertainment.

    And isn’t that sad? I’m old enough to remember when people felt differently, and when journalism was considered, in fact, a calling.

    Dcn. G.

  35. Deacon Greg, I remember journalism being referred to as the “Fourth Estate.” Now it’s the “Fifth Column”.

  36. I would not classify the Chelsea Clinton’s interview as entertainment. Having viewed the entire interview, I’m impressed with the message.

    It is a story about a woman who has devoted her life and her finances to making a positive difference in the lives of some children by providing a safe place, food, counseling, and lessons in responsibility. (I am sure that Newt Gingrich would approve of this message.)

    If we politicize the interview with comparisons between the media coverage of the Bush girls and hypercriticize the quality of her voice, we may miss a positive message.

  37. Television journalism is, by and large, entertainment. It also sells product.

    That’s not to say that video journalism is necessarily doomed to being irrelevant. But for it to be serious, it would have to me more about artistry than packaging, more about content than salesmanship.

  38. I can’t believe I have to support this further as the double standard is well known but I will let the liberal Washington Post explain it.

    1) “The media, in turn, have adopted a protective, hands-off policy toward Chelsea.”

    Further evidence that you career is on the line if you dare discuss Chelsea in a critical light.

    2) “NBC Newsman Suspended After Harsh Remark About Chelsea Clinton”,2933,330281,00.html

    3) On Wednesday’s CBS “Early Show,” co-host Harry Smith discussed a question being asked of Chelsea Clinton about Monica Lewinsky on the campaign trail with Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn, who was baffled by the media’s refusal to ask Chelsea tough questions: “Frankly, in all of my years of journalism, I have never seen the press lie down like this before. This is — this is not what the American public thinks of as the critical and sort of — killing, marauding, press corps – ” Smith responded by admitting that: “Yeah, we’re not exactly — we’re not exactly watchdogs here.”

    No such protection for the children of Republicans.

  39. HMS –
    Thanks for the update. I’m glad to see there is a more solid academic background than I knew. I’m still concerned about the process however.

  40. Deacon Greg, I to remember when there was some great coverage of the news. I also remember the move on Edward R Murrow when he was being booted out because it was now all about advertising revenues which also would have a significant impact on what was reported. The 4th estate has become in large part PR for the various companies and political parties. I think they should be sued for false advertising and lose their protection given them in the first amendment…not really, but something should be done in some way to turn this around. They say if you put a thoughtful program on that no one watches so we get sound bites and folks yelling back and forth with talking points. We get the news in small bites built on some formula of good story, sob story, and anti something story as if on que and all with a specific agenda or bias.

  41. That’s my take. if Ms Clinton wants a carrier in TV news she should apply for work in small market stations and work up. Our local stations get these neophytes and it is amazing as how they gain stage/screen presence over time. Most start out badly and many end up OK.

  42. Klaire – I agree with you. I kept trying to imagine how she could have done this more “like a pro” and, in my mind it wouldn’t have been an improvement. She seemed sincere and not slick like so many other Barbie Doll tv reporters.

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