Former first daughter, Chelsea Clinton has recently been tapped as a special correspondent for NBC Nightly News and Rock Center with Brian Williams. While the news didn’t get a whole lot of press coverage (folks are still focused on the Penn State U scandal), some have called NBC out on hiring Clinton. I for one don’t see anything terribly wrong with this; I also don’t see anything incredibly right with this either.
Let’s be clear, Clinton wasn’t hired to be a roving news reporter so that she could be on hand to interview the players of the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street protests or the aforementioned Penn State University child rape crimes. Instead, she’s going to be doing something called “Making a Difference,” in which Clinton will be highlighting philanthropic fluff stories – uplifting stuff, to counterbalance all the hard news.
Do I think Clinton’s supremely qualified for the job? Nope. Do I think her parents’ fame had nothing to do with the hire? Again, of course not. But show business is all about ratings, sales and figures – TV executives, record producers and film muckity mucks all try to get high-profile names so that they can get big ratings, sales and box office. Clinton’s had an unfair advantage that her dad was president and her mom’s secretary of state, but let’s be honest, almost every celebrity nowadays has some kind of “up.”
You want an example, just turn on the television to any reality show that features the offspring of some washed-up celebrity. The Kardashian girls, the Osbourne kids, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, etc. – these are all kids that have parlayed their parents’ fame into some kind of notoriety; and it’s not just the tawdry or cheesy celebs too – respected artists like Natalie Cole, Liza Minnelli, Rosanne Cash, Carrie Fisher, Kate Hudson, Janet Jackson (well any Jackson that’s not named Michael), Hank Williams III, Nona Gaye, Louise Goffin have all benefited greatly from their famous family connections – they’ve since proven themselves talented in their own right, but still, they had a “leg up” so to speak from being related to someone famous.
Clinton’s in a similar boat – she’s gotten this platform – it’ll be interesting to see how she does. She’s been famously guarded as a child, but in the past couple years, she’s taken baby steps into the spotlight – most famously touring the country in support of her mom’s unsuccessful presidential campaign. She fielded questions like a seasoned pro and she appeared gregarious and comfortable in front of the cameras. Whether this minor success can translate into a burgeoning TV career, we’ve yet to see.
Some will argue (fairly) that Clinton’s got an unfair advantage, and that because of her some less-connected but more qualified candidate will lose out on a chance (some have said the same thing about our current president, by the way). And well, yes, this charge is correct: Chelsea Clinton does have an unfair advantage and she did cut across a whole lot of lines to get this plum, supporting gig. But let’s be honest, in the entertainment industry (because let’s not fool ourselves, Clinton’s not replacing Barbara Walters or Christiane Amanpour), it’s all about unfair advantages. Beautiful people are definitely favored unfairly when competing for roles – for example, Jennifer Lopez, a charming young lady, but if we’re going to be brutally honest, not a terribly interesting actress (and even a worse singer); or if you want to go back a couple years, Paula Abdul, again a terrible singer, but because of her charm and beauty, she was able to have a decent career as a pop star; even someone as creative and cool like Madonna, has gained an amazing amount of success, when other more talented (if less dynamic) vocalists have had to settle for singing in anonymous clubs. Some may argue that the successes of Lopez, Madonna, Abdul, Janet Jackson, Keanu Reeves, Pamela Anderson, Daryl Hannah, et al have all been more about style and looks over substance – and in their places, more talented individuals have had to step aside.
Is it unfair? Yes, but “that’s show business.” The entertainment industry is not like other industries, because it’s not a meritocracy – you don’t have to be the most talented, the most driven, the most committed or even the most beautiful. You just have to have some kind of “in” that will grab the attentions of executives who are looking to cash in and exploit that “in.” I don’t know the details of Clinton’s contract or what went on behind the scenes, but I’m guessing that having a Clinton on the payroll is a win-win for the NBC brass who know that they can lean on Chelsea whenever they want to get one of her mommy’s or daddy’s illustrious contacts on the phone. Cynically speaking, they didn’t just hire Chelsea Clinton, they hired her incredibly expensive Rolodex.
I’ll withhold judgment until I actually see one of her segments to see who well she does. If she does terribly, she’ll fall flat on her face in a very public way and NBC will probably quietly phase out her segment and that will be the end. If she does well, she may find herself reinventing herself as a 21st Century Maria Shriver (who also greatly benefited from her familial contacts, but proved her journalistic chops when she had to). I’m willing to give her a shot.