When NBC announced that it would hire Chelsea Clinton as a new correspondent for their Rock Center show with Brian Williams, I was critical of the decision — mainly because the 32-year-old daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton had hardly been cooperative with news media, even when in the form of a 9-year-old girl looking for a quote. This was a vestige of the media blackout the younger Clinton enjoyed as a teenager in the White House, but those days were long past — although it seems as though some in the media have not forgotten it.
Clinton made her debut on Rock Center last night, and the Washington Post’s Hank Steuver appears to channel a few years of frustration into a blistering critique of the cub reporter:
[W]hat was surprising to see on Monday night’s show is how someone can be on TV in such a prominent way and, in her big moment, display so very little charisma — none at all. Either we’re spoiled by TV’s unlimited population of giant personalities or this woman is one of the most boring people of her era.
Ouch. But that’s just the beginning, as Steuver blasts the media shield that has surrounded Clinton well past her majority:
As soon as NBC announced its opportunistic addition of Clinton as a very special correspondent to its news staff last month (using the broadest definition of “news” to include the sort of uplifting, socially concerned puff pieces Clinton will contribute), all sorts of longstanding bargains have been nullified. Clinton, who turns 32 in February, is officially past the “hands-off” restrictions firmly negotiated with the media when she was 12 and her father, the president, and her mother, the almighty, insisted that the press not write any stories about her.
That weird treatment extended well into her adulthood, creating a kind of Gen-Y Greta Garbo in plain sight, a mystery figure entirely undeserving of the intrigue and fascination accorded her. Having earned degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Columbia (and still working on her doctorate at New York University), Clinton is now ready to put all that schooling to one of the easiest tasks on the planet: feel-good journalism about folks just makin’ their way.
All of these are good points, but it seems to show a little, er, prejudice in his ability to review Clinton’s performance. So how was she? World’s most boring human, a standard non-talent, a rookie with some rough skills, or a star in the making? Steuver’s review actually prompted me to watch the segment, something I would have otherwise skipped … and probably should have:
I don’t think Chelsea Clinton is the world’s most boring human, but it’s hard to argue that she has any mad skilz for this kind of work, either. NBC did her no favors by giving her a 10-minute segment on an interesting human-interest story that could easily have been handled in a two- to three-minute hit with no couch follow-up. The couch segment with Williams drags on interminably with nothing of interest being said, and being said uninterestingly. However, the actual segment itself was handled competently if not terribly dynamically by Clinton, and it was an interesting story.
Steuver’s right that a couple of years at a local station reporting on city-council meetings would give Clinton a chance to develop real skill and talent for this line of work, but he’s also right that this effort isn’t about turning Chelsea Clinton into the next Diane Sawyer, either:
Stories from the Chelsea beat, meanwhile, are all meant to do a few things, very quickly: Highlight some bright spot of good news in otherwise bleak circumstances; indicate how viewers might help out the situation, if so inclined; and (this is never once said, but almost always palpable in the empathetic eyes of the reporter) ennoble the reporter herself, and thereby ennoble the network.
The whole exercise appears to be intended to promote the next generation of Clintons for public work, and perhaps public office. So far, though, it’s not working. Clinton may not be as bad as Steuver says, but she’s not worth watching, either.