Chelsea Clinton at NBC: When Nepotism Goes Wrong

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NEW YORK CITY- SEPTEMBER 22: Hillary Rodham Clinton (L), Secretary of State, stands as she is applauded by her daughter Chelsea Clinton during the closing Plenary session of the seventh Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) at the Sheraton New York Hotel on September 22, 2011 in New York City. Established in 2005, by former US President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) convenes global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world‚??s most pressing challenges. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

NBC's hiring of Chelsea Clinton as a "special correspondent" was initially received with a fair amount of eye-rolling because of the network's history of employing famous progeny and Clinton's own tentative, even nonexistent, relationship with journalists. Now, she's renewed her original three-month contract despite doing just three fluffy segments in five months, and NBC insiders have taken the opportunity to complain anonymously to Buzzfeed.

But the network knew going in that Clinton wasn't interested in being a real reporter, and they even doubted her screen presence from the start. What they wanted, of course, was her celebrity potential, and as of yet, she's been disappointing in that regard too. It's just hard to feel bad for anyone involved.

According to the report by Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings, Clinton was "horrible" in the nominal interview process, where it felt like Clinton was the one calling the shots. "There were ground rules, what she could and couldn't report, only good news, no politics," said a source. And hopes weren't high — one NBC staffer told coworkers she would be "terrible" on television. And so far? "What's she giving us?" asked an NBC executive. "There's that wall that needs to be torn down. She sounds like a smart and intelligent woman, but there are lots of smart and intelligent women."

Hastings writes, "The days of Chelsea having it both ways are over. It's one thing to want your total privacy, and stay totally private; it's another thing to want your total privacy while reaping all the rewards and privileges that contemporary celebrity has to offer."

Reading between the lines is easy: The network wants access to Clinton's eventual tell-all about the Monica Lewinsky years, and the sympathetic character she could become if or when she chooses to open up. But hiring her as a long-term celebrity investment under the thin pretense of broadcast journalism — knowing full well she's not particularly charismatic — and then sniping publicly about the results in the meantime just seems like bad form.

At the close of her first appearance, Brian Williams said tellingly to Clinton, "In the months to come, we want to hear about you and your life." Those with something to gain may be frustrated that day hasn't arrived, but don't expect outsiders to sympathize with a network whose nepotism gamble hasn't paid off yet.