Going Journalist

Photo: Patrick McMullan

It must have looked to the parties involved like a feel-good story: Last week, NBC News announced that it was hiring Chelsea Clinton to report stories for the network’s “Making a Difference” franchise, traveling the country interviewing subjects with uplifting stories about lending a hand in hard times. Who could find fault with that?

A lot of people, it turns out. There was the hypocrisy angle: To the reporters who covered Hillary’s ’08 campaign, Chelsea’s overnight transformation from reclusive former First Daughter to network correspondent was an outrage. (During that race, Politico relayed how Chelsea declined to answer a question from a 9-year-old “reporter” for Scholastic News who asked her if Bill would be a good “First Man.” “I’m sorry,” Chelsea reportedly told the kid following a campaign event. “I don’t talk to the press, and that applies to you, unfortunately—even though I think you’re cute.”) At the New York Post, Andrea Peyser played up the nepotism theme. “Just another spoiled, aimless child of rich, successful parents chauffeured through adulthood by Mommy and Daddy’s connections,” she wrote.

On further consideration, though, Chelsea’s new job seems perfectly natural, even inevitable. High-profile political children today come of age harboring an antipathy toward the press, having watched the frenzy surrounding their parents and felt firsthand the sometimes rough treatment of their own affairs. But they also come to recognize the power that being in the media glare confers. Becoming a member of the press—the “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” strategy—is perhaps their only option for remaining public figures, and enjoying the perks that come with that, without going into the truly dirty business of politics itself.

Chelsea’s not alone among political heirs in following the path blazed by Maria Shriver with her hiring by the CBS Morning News in 1985 and, a year later, NBC. And while the specific roles vary, the benefits of being on the other side of the microphone universally apply. By taking assignments as a Today correspondent, Jenna Bush gained a glamorous outlet outside her teaching job (and a way to erase one of the public’s earlier encounters with her, when she was busted in college for underage drinking). Liz Cheney has used her Fox News appearances to aggressively defend her father’s controversial positions. Meghan McCain, after signing with MSNBC to offer commentary on the upcoming presidential election, took to her new platform to fire back at Newt Gingrich, who had been quoted calling her “clueless.” “I think he’s delusional,” retorted McCain, who has also written for the Daily Beast. “I think it’s so sexist and disgusting and lame.”

Clinton’s new job will also let her control her own narrative, if more subtly. Ever since our first glimpse of an 11-year-old Chelsea on the 1992 campaign trail, people have been asking what she’ll grow up to be. That guessing game certainly hasn’t subsided in the wake of her fairy-tale wedding to Marc Mezvinsky and the tabloid speculation about their marriage that has followed. Now, to get an answer, Clinton watchers will only need to tune in to her segments on the NBC Nightly News, where, it can be assumed, she’ll enjoy being the one asking the questions.

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Going Journalist