By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
3:09 PM EST, March 2, 2013
Remember when Chelsea Clinton and NBC News launched this misadventure featuring her as a "special correspondent" on "Rock Center" with a fanfare of hype and outright lies about what she and the journalistically-challenged NBC News were up to?
Steve Capus, the recently deposed president of NBC News, said "it was as if she had been preparing her whole life" for the job.
Clinton herself told "Rock Center" host Brian Williams as part of her first appearance that she took the TV job to lead a more "purposefully public life" highlighting people who are "making a difference." She said her first report on a woman in Arkansas who helped underprivileged children with afterschool tutoring and meals allegedly at her own great expense was the template. She promised more stories on struggling non-profits and charitable efforts she deemed worthy.
In that and other interviews and speeches, Clinton made it sound as if she was taking the network correspondent's job as an act of public service or even philanthropy, rather than a high-visibility something to do after failing to write the dissertation that would have earned her a doctorate degree.
By the way, when was the last time you heard Team Clinton talking about the Ph.D. she has so far failed to earn? Sorry, ye shall be known by your deeds, not your publicist's hype and lies.
So, Friday night, again came Chelsea on "Rock Center," one of the sorriest and most compromised newsmagazines in the history of network television -- and that's covering a lot of territory. Only now after only 14 months, she isn't profiling some hard-working, struggling, philanthropic enterprise in an inner city, she's interviewing the multi-millionaire author, Judy Blume, in Key West.
So much, for the "purposefully public," I-just-want-to-help-those-who-do-good-by-helping-others explanation for her so-called TV career. Now she's on the celebrity author beat.
And help me out here because I'm confused, but I thought Jenna Bush, the other I-need-a-job ex-president's daughter, had the children's book beat covered with her fine, fine work for NBC News on the "Today" show. (This being the web, I guess I better say right here I am being sarcastic about "fine, fine.")
Bush only joined NBC News, by the way, after her fine, fine and short career teaching reading to children in a Baltimore school. (Really, the lies the media goes along with about these grown presidential children are astounding. Why do we do it?)
Look, I am not going to tear apart Clinton's performance. I've done that two or three times already. It's shooting dead, bloated fish in a barrel. Even with network producers and editors, they can't make her start to look like a competent on-camera interviewer.
Well, I do need to say one very obvious and bad thing about her Blume interview: Most of it was Clinton sharing her girlhood reading habits and reactions to Blume's book with Blume and any souls unfortunate enough to be watching this blighted broadcast -- like me.
It's not about you, Chelsea. It's about Blume. She is the accomplished one, not you. I want to hear what she has to say about her career and the insights she gleaned in her work and life -- not what you felt or thought when you were reading her as an adolescent.
Really, this is Interviewing 101, and it is a mistake almost every college student and young reporter makes, talking about their "feelings" instead of trying to get the subject of the interview to talk about her or his feelings.
Maybe if Clinton had done any journalism study, internships or work at an in-the-sticks TV station, she would have learned that. But she went right to the front of the line of her generation for one of the best-paid, most-glamorous, dress-up jobs in journalism.
I admit, every time I write one of these Chelsea-is-pathetic-and-NBC-should-be-ashamed pieces I ask myself why I care.
Here's why: Because NBC News undercuts, demeans and debases the profession and the democratic mission of journalism with the hiring of someone so blatantly unworthy.
If you took your child to Johns Hopkins Hospital for brain surgery, you wouldn't accept Dr. Benjamin Carson coming to you before your kid was wheeled into the operating room to tell you Michael Reagan, not him, would be the guy handling the operation.
Can you imagine: "No, he didn't study medicine. Nor did he ever do a residency. But he's Ronald Reagan's son, you know, and he needs work. And we think he might even drive some traffic through our doors with his celebrity."
Seriously, you wouldn't even allow someone to work on your car without some training and interest in engines even if their name was Carter, Bush, Ford or Clinton.
But we let Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush practice journalism on one of the biggest stages in broadcasting, and act like it's OK.
What does that say about what NBC News really thinks about the profession and its role in this society?
Maybe it makes good business sense for Comcast, the owners of NBC News, to curry favor with people of power in Washington, given that the company has billions of dollars in broadcast licenses subject to federal regulators. Compared to what top-tier Washington lobbyists make, what NBC pays Clinton and Bush is nothing.
And maybe the corporate equation says that is worth it.
But what about the message it sends to the public about your commitment to serving democracy with your journalism -- or the message it sends to the real journalists at NBC News whose work and careers are insulted by your hiring and promotion of such blatant incompetence?
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