Chelsea Clinton fails Journalism 101 again on NBC's Rock Center'

Chelsea Clinton did her second report for NBC's "Rock Center with Brian Williams" Wednesday night, and it was just as flawed as the first. The learning curve does not appear to have bent one degree in the direction of growth.

This one-dimensional, under-reported, naive celebration of a charter school in Rhode Island was just as much of an empty-headed puff job as Clinton's first report on an after-school program in Little Rock.

And before you take to your computer to send an email telling me how mean it is for me to criticize this 31-year-old woman who has been given educational and workplace advantages generally belonging to the elite 1 percent we have been hearing so much about in recent months, let me say my criticism is not primarily directed at Clinton, but rather at NBC News, It knows the difference between jounalism and the silly crap she is doing.

Again, we were given only one side of a story without any room for any voice that would question Clinton's unsupported claim that "something special," which could serve as a model for urban education throughout the land, was happening in the charter-school classroom she and NBC News chose to shine a spotlight on Wednesday night.

Clinton presented the reading program at the school and "collaboration" with a nearby public school as big news -- if not without precedent. She never really documented the extent of that collaboration from the point of view of the public school administration. Once again, she took the words of the people she chose to champion without presenting anyone critical of them. And if you have a child in public schools, you don't need me to tell you there is unanimity of opinion on no program that is truly innovative.

But that's another major flaw with Clinton's report: The kind of reading program for elementary school kids that she found so groundbreaking does not appear to be so groundbreaking at all.

Follow this link to NBC's web version of the story and check out some of the comments (if NBC News hasn't scrubbed them away) explaining to Clinton how old this approach is and who the real creators of it are. (Hint: They are not the folks she celebrated at the charter school.) She not only missed such facts, but misrepresented the history and complexity of the issue in her attempt at a simplistic feel-good, this-is-a-place-of-"hope" report on the school.

I am not going to take the route some of my colleague have taken in writing about whether or not she is "poised" and "at ease" on air. Who cares? What matters is the journalism -- or, in her case, absolute lack of it.

But there isn't much time for real reporting when you have your correspondent playing teacher for the cameras as NBC News did, with Clinton sitting one-on-one with a small child in Wednesday's report.

After the child read a passage from a book to Clinton, the special correspondent beamed as she exclaimed, "That's great!"

How would Clinton know if that's great? Is she a qualified teacher of reading? Maybe it's not great. Maybe the kid should be reading at a much higher level for his age?

As far as I know, Chelsea Clinton has zero expertise as a teacher of grade-school reading, which is almost as much expertise as she has as a reporter.

If I sound angry, again, it is not at Clinton. It is at NBC News and Brian Williams for the way in which they are willing to debase journalism with this exercise in sucking up to people in power.


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