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Chelsea Clinton on NBC: When media hire from political families

Is the former 'first daughter' worthy of a correspondent post or is her hiring a gimmick?

November 15, 2011|By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times
  • Chelsea Clinton will be a special correspondent for NBC.
Chelsea Clinton will be a special correspondent for NBC. (Evan Agostini / Associated…)

NBC's newest correspondent fits the profile of a lot of other network news hires — bright, articulate and educated at America's best colleges. She's also unlike other network news hires — having lived for eight years in the White House and done little to veil her suspicion of the media.

So it was with more than a little carping and some outright disdain that professional journalists and other Washington observers greeted Chelsea Clinton's ascension to a prime-time television perch. Judging from online comment boards after NBC announced Clinton's hiring Monday, much of the public will take a more generous, wait-and-see attitude toward a hiring that has plenty of historic precedent.

Clinton will appear as a "special correspondent" on the network's Nightly News as well as on its recently launched evening magazine, "Rock Center With Brian Williams." She will report stories about individuals and organizations that perform good works, under NBC's "Making a Difference" banner.

"Chelsea is a remarkable woman who will be a great addition to NBC News. Given her vast experiences, it's as though Chelsea has been preparing for this opportunity her entire life," Steve Capus, president of NBC News, said in a prepared statement. "We are proud she will be bringing her considerable, unique talents and dedication to NBC News."

Clinton, 31, plans to continue work toward a doctoral degree. She received a masters in Public Health from Columbia University in New York last year, after earning a bachelor's degree in history at Stanford University. She previously worked at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and serves on several boards, including for her father's foundation and the School of the American Ballet.

NBC representatives did not say when her first story would be broadcast or what it would be about. They depicted the former first daughter's relationship with the network as a work in progress. It remains to be seen how often she will appear on the nightly news and the magazine program.

Clinton joins a couple of other political daughters under the NBC umbrella. In 2009, the network hired Jenna Bush Hager as a reporter for the "Today" show. As with Clinton, producers have steered her toward topics unlikely to provoke charges of political bias. The one-time school teacher has delivered stories about a violin prodigy, a professional football player's charitable works, profiles of national parks and an interview with "Twilight" movie heartthrob Robert Pattinson.

More than a few other political progeny have delivered the news in some fashion. President Truman's daughter, Margaret, hosted a radio show, "Authors in the News." John F. Kennedy Jr. co-founded the political magazine "George." Vice President Walter Mondale's daughter, Eleanor, worked as a television and radio host. Most recently, NBC's cable outlet, MSNBC, hired Meghan McCain — daughter of the U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate — to provide political commentary.

True to her long-standing practice, Clinton declined to speak to anyone in the media after NBC's announcement. She strenuously avoided interviews during Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential run, even refusing to speak to a 9-year-old reporter from Scholastic News. The child wanted to know what kind of "First Man" Bill Clinton might be.

"Chelsea Clinton has loathed the news media for most of her life," Don Van Natta, a New York Times reporter, wrote via Twitter. "So it makes sense she has decided to join us and refuse to be interviewed." The journalist co-authored a book about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Judy Muller, a one-time ABC correspondent who now teaches at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, said it is hard not to see the Clinton hiring as a "gimmick." She said it would be hard to explain to her students that it sometimes takes more than hard work and persistence to make it to national television.

But Muller noted that some born into political families — Chris Cuomo, son and brother of New York governors and an ABC correspondent, and Maria Shriver, a Kennedy clan member and one-time network anchor — had staying power.

"Those people lasted," she said, "because they could do the work."

james.rainey@latimes.com

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