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CAMPAIGN '08: ON THE TRAIL

Clinton may spurn debate over remark

An MSNBC reporter apologizes and is suspended after saying Chelsea was being 'pimped out.'

February 09, 2008|Peter Nicholas and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Angered by an MSNBC correspondent's demeaning comment about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's daughter, aides to her presidential campaign said Friday that she might pull out of a debate planned by the cable network this month in Cleveland.

Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, cast as "beneath contempt" an on-air comment Thursday by MSNBC's David Shuster, who said Chelsea Clinton is "sort of being pimped out" as she intensifies her campaigning for her mother.

NBC News announced Friday afternoon that Shuster had been suspended indefinitely over the remark, which a release called "irresponsible and inappropriate."

Shuster apologized Friday morning on MSNBC for the term he applied to Chelsea. He issued a second apology on the MSNBC show "Tucker," where he had uttered his comment while acting as guest host.

Hillary Clinton's campaign staff has been critical of what it considers a hostile attitude toward her in MSNBC's coverage, and the Shuster incident brought matters to a head.

Clinton is seeking more debates with Sen. Barack Obama as their race for the Democratic nomination has tightened, and as part of that strategy she agreed to take part in an MSNBC forum Feb. 26.

"We've done a number of debates on that network," Wolfson said. "And at this point I can't envision a scenario where we would continue to engage in debates on that network, given the comments that were made and have been made."

NBC News, in its statement, said it was working to keep the debate alive.

"Our conversations with the Clinton campaign about their participation continue today, and we are hopeful that the event will take place as planned," the statement said.

Last month, another MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, apologized after suggesting Clinton owed her political success to her husband's philandering. "The reason she may be a front-runner [in the presidential race] is her husband messed around," Matthews said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Wolfson on Friday referenced that controversy, saying, "At some point you really have to question whether or not there's a pattern here at this particular network, where you have comments being made and apologies given," he said. "Is this something that folks are encouraged to do or not do? I don't know, but the [Shuster] comment was beneath contempt, and I think any fair-minded person would see it that way."

On the "Tucker" show, Shuster said: "I apologize to the Clinton family, the Clinton campaign and all of you who were justifiably offended. As I said this morning on MSNBC, all Americans should be proud of Chelsea Clinton. And I am particularly sorry that my language diminished the regard and respect she has earned from all of us and the respect her parents have earned in how they raised her."

NBC News, in its statement, said it "takes these matters seriously, and offers our sincere regrets to the Clintons for the remarks."

Turning down a debate with the nomination in doubt would be a big step for Clinton, who feels such forums work in her favor, providing a chance to demonstrate her grasp of policy and to spotlight her experience. She has accepted offers to take part in four debates over the next month; Obama has agreed to take part in two, including the one in Cleveland.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

matea.gold@latimes.com

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Nicholas reported from Washington and Gold from New York.

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