Allow me to be among the first working journalists to welcome Chelsea Clinton to the Fourth Estate. Clinton, as you probably read in this morning’s New York Times, has taken a job with NBC News as a full-time special correspondent and will cover stories for the network’s do-gooder “Making a Difference” series.
Please read no snark into my Clinton welcome.
Yes, I know that many of you will deplore the fact that somebody like Clinton with no real journalistic experience but plenty of connections has won a high-ranking reporting position at a broadcast network. Your thought balloons about cronyism, already passing over my office, read, If Chelsea wanted to be a journalist she should have gone to journalism school or gotten an internship and parlayed that into a job covering crime for a paper in the boonies, and then over the years worked her way up.
But Clinton, who will turn 32 in February, isn’t the first high-profile political spawn to use the family name as a media-career springboard. The Times article notes that President George W. Bush daughter Jenna Bush Hager is an NBC Today correspondent, and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain contributes to MSNBC. Caroline Kennedy has published nearly a dozen books about patriotism, the Bill of Rights, courage, and poetry and Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald Ford, has published two volumes of mystery fiction. Ron Reagan, Michael Reagan, and Maureen Reagan all leveraged their father’s prominence into jobs behind the microphone. Maria Shriver, whose uncle was President John Kennedy and whose father, Sargent Shriver, ran for vice president, capitalized on her family connections to get a job as a reporter at a Philadelphia TV station in 1977 straight out of college at the age of 22. She moved to CBS News six years later. You know the rest.
The promotion of the under-talented sons and daughters of the politically connected to fancy media jobs seems to violate our great, national, meritocratic creed, as does the assignment of politicians such as Joe Scarborough, Susan Molinari, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Eliot Spitzer, and George Stephanopoulos to their respective media slots, and the addition of Republican hacks Palin, Huckabee, Kasich, Santorum, and Gingrich to the Fox News Channel payroll.
But the reflexive disdain for cronyism ignores the essence of TV news: Like the movies, TV news thrives on a star culture that is so devolved that almost anybody with name-recognition, positive or negative, can be considered a star, as hooker-happy Eliot Spitzer proved. And there’s nothing a network likes to do more than to steal a star from another network.