Chelsea Clinton takes to the airwaves

By Richard Poplak 17 November 2011

Chelsea Clinton is now a TV reporter, but other reporters aren’t allowed to speak to her about being a reporter? In an odd and unsurprising continuation of her cosseted life, the young Clinton is now a “full time special correspondent for NBC News”. And the real victim is the news. By RICHARD POPLAK.

If you are young, mildly photogenic and the son or daughter of someone famous, there’s every chance you will land up as a “special correspondent” on NBC News. The network is not among the go-to venues for those seeking top-quality journalism, incisive reporting and biting commentary. In fact, NBC News is so terrible that calling it mainstream doesn’t quite do the mainstream justice. It is so bad, it occasionally feels as if Tim Burton has stopped by to shoot a parody.

One of the network’s gambits, in a clear case of smearing lipstick on a pig, is to hire young, famous people to stand in front of the camera and prattle about nonsense. There’s George W Bush’s daughter, Jenna Bush Hager. There’s John McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain. Along with Kathy-Lee Gifford’s son Cody (the movie review intern last year) and Tim Russert’s boy, Luke.  NBC News is sort of a debutante’s ball for the children of high-end Americans.

In Chelsea Clinton’s case, it seems as if this is another in a long line of carefully managed grooming measures. What better way to familiarise Chelsea with a camera than putting her in front of one several times a week? While NBC News may use these big names to boost their meagre audience ratings, they are in turn being used as training wheels for kids looking to ride fame’s unwieldy bicycle.

If Clinton the Younger had an introduction to the big stage, it was her mother’s Democrat primary campaign during the 2007 and 2008 election cycle. This was the first time reporters were (sort of) officially allowed access to Chelsea, who had been hidden away and fiercely protected from the belligerent political media atmosphere of the Clinton years. Cameras did not chase Chelsea when her father was on the block for accepting sexual favours from an intern, nor did she, in turn, have drug-and-drink-fuelled college blowouts ala the Bush twins.

Her parents did everything they could to ensure there was a media blackout on her activities. She went to Sidwell, a private school in DC, where neither faculty nor student body has breathed a word about her, and never shall. In Stanford, her Secret Service agents dressed as college kids and lived on her dorm floor. She was one of the few students to have bulletproof glass to go with her Kate Bush posters. Same deal at her father’s alma mater, Oxford, even though she pissed off the school by describing it as a hotbed of anti-American feeling shortly after 9/11.

This tacit media ban on anything Chelsea was more or less enforced, right until the point Chelsea needed to step into the spotlight and make her mother seem more human by virtue of having a daughter. She appeared across America’s college campuses, stumping valiantly for Rodham-Clinton’s nomination. Those who had been denied all but the odd image here or there were introduced to a smart, warm if somewhat fussy young woman, only 27 at the time, but seemingly older, wiser. Unattractive as a girl and teenager, Chelsea had grown into herself, and there was talk on the Byway that this young woman stood a chance at following in her parents’ footsteps.

That said, this era of glasnost was furiously managed. She responded to a nine-year-old Scholastic News cub reporter’s question by stating, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak to the press and that includes you. Even though I think you’re cute.” (Aww!) At the Democratic National Convention in 2008, she famously referred to Rodham-Clinton as “my mother and my hero”. After Team Clinton’s primary loss, she faded back into the buzz of New York City, only to emerge as the bride-to-be of Marc Mezvinsky, himself a scion of a Democratic family. Readers with a conspiratorial bent will be unsurprised to learn that Mezvinsky worked for Goldman Sachs.

With that all behind her, Chelsea Clinton is now a full-time NBC news hack, charged with telling stories on the “Making A Difference” segment, which relates the trials and tribulations of average folk doing above-average things in times of trouble. As much as a ratings suck as NBC News may be, “Making A Difference” tends to draw in viewers who are uninterested in, say, Herman Cain’s pick up lines, or Silvio Berlusconi’s latest political declaration. Apparently, while stumping for her mother, Chelsea was fired up by John and Jane Doe’s resilience and sheer pluck.

Chelsea has told reporters—ha, ha! Just kidding. Chelsea has released one or two desultory statements, and other than that, she’s kept shtum. “I hope telling stories through ‘Making a Difference’ — as in my academic work and nonprofit work — will help me to live my grandmother’s adage of ‘Life is not about what happens to you, but about what you do with what happens to you,’ ” says the official Clinton line. She is donating a large portion of her salary to her dad’s Clinton Foundation, at which she will continue to toil. Likewise, she must still wrap up her academic work at Oxford. This isn’t about money—money will never be a consideration for Chelsea Clinton until she needs to start raising it for her own primary cam….

Wait! We’re getting ahead of ourselves here. NBC News is using the celebrity cache of the Clinton name to draw in viewers, and Chelsea Clinton is using NBC News to hone an image. To what end that image shall be wielded, time shall tell. There is only one casualty here, and that’s the image of the news, which has been further reduced into a species of reality show: Celebrity Seriousness—where the sons and daughters of former politicos show off how intensely involved they are in the “issues”. The Bush, McCain and now Clinton families are preparing to extend their political dynasties while covering the day-to-day trappings of America’s decline and fall.

In a way, that’s utterly perfect. DM

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