Brian Birdnow

Last Monday, November 14th, the National Broadcasting Corporation announced that have hired the estimable Chelsea Clinton as a full-time special correspondent for NBC News. The appointment, effective immediately, will assign Ms. Clinton to stories on the NBC Nightly News and its “Making A Difference” series, according to Steve Capus, President of NBC News.

Capus, who insists that this is a serious hire for a legitimate job, told the New York Times that he had been contacted by an “intermediary” on young Chelsea’s behalf and that this rather shadowy figure indicated that Ms. Clinton was interested in a career as a television journalist at NBC News. Capus could be excused if he told this intermediary that a lot of talented people who had paid their dues in the television news industry had been waiting in line outside of NBC for years, and that their just wasn’t anything available at the moment. Mr. Capus, however, obligingly arranged a meeting with the former first daughter and asked her, “What are you interested in doing?” The pair had a pleasant conversation, and…Voila, A Television Journalist Was Born!

At first glance, this new appointment would seem to continue the practice of public figures turning to journalism, thus blurring the line between politics and news. This phenomenon goes all the way back to the 1970s when former Nixon aides Pat Buchanan and William Safire made the transition from politics to prestige journalism, with each becoming highly respected and influential. David Gergen and Patrick J. Caddell trod the same path in the 1980s, as did George Stephanopoulos in the 1990s.

It is not unheard of for Presidential and Vice-Presidential kids, trading on their names, to get in on the act. Eleanor Mondale, the daughter of former Vice-President Walter Mondale, worked a number of radio and local TV gigs before landing at NBC, ESPN & CBS respectively. Recently, NBC hired Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former President George W. Bush, as an occasional correspondent for the network’s “Today” show.

Chelsea Clinton, however, takes the practice of trading on her surname to new heights. She is simply cashing in on the celebrity of her mother and father, and has been doing so for the eleven years since the Clinton show closed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet, Steve Capus, the NBC boss states, “Given her (Chelsea’s) vast experience, its as though she has been preparing for this opportunity her entire adult life.” Oh, really?

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.