Chelsea Clinton didn’t work her way up the journalism ladder the way most broadcast journalists do. She didn’t have to do grinding morning shifts covering police scanner tips, the county farm report, high school sports and local weather in a rotisserie format that leaves you begging for a couch to collapse on. She didn’t have to do midnight shifts spinning tunes she had no interest in, trying to make them sound like the Next Great Thing while juggling phone call requests and planning to toss on that song that’s just long enough for a bathroom trip and a recharge on the coffee. She didn’t have to write copy as she raced to the booth to go on air with a breaking story, she didn’t have to rip and read, swinging between stories about real life tragedies and comedies without missing a beat, delivering the wrong tone or seeming like you’d never read the copy before. She didn’t experience on-air practical jokes, technical bombs that force you to tap dance while the engineer sorts it out, or deal with the revolving door of personnel door that is small and even large market broadcasting, where you see friends fired, laid off, promoted, and sidelined, and where bosses just occasionally disappear.
Chelsea Clinton was born the daughter of American media royalty. NBC gave her a national broadcasting job. In many ways this was unfair, both to aspiring broadcasters who lack Clinton’s connections, and to Clinton herself. She had her debut last night, and the Washington Post’s Hank Steuver was not impressed.
It’s no surprise whatsoever that Chelsea Clinton didn’t electrify broadcast journalism with her debut Monday night on NBC’s “Rock Center With Brian Williams,” because she has no experience in broadcast journalism. She didn’t cut her teeth with live coverage of strip-mall blazes in Sacramento. She never did weekend weather in Wichita Falls. She didn’t blow the lid off mail-order ham scams in Des Moines. (Who — besides everyone working in TV news who did each and every one of those things — says you have to do all that?)
Rather, what was surprising to see on Monday night’s show is how someone can be on TV in such a prominent way and, in her big moment, display so very little charisma — none at all. Either we’re spoiled by TV’s unlimited population of giant personalities or this woman is one of the most boring people of her era.
Brutal, but accurate, even if it comes with a dose of jealousy. Clinton is a noob, and it shows. Her vocal quality is poor, her voice-over has no zip or personality, and she says nothing interesting or surprising during the taped or couch segments. She is very forgettable. Name her “Chelsea Johnson” and she might get an on-air slot in Tyler, TX. If there’s an opening and the station is a little desperate. Freshman level broadcasting classes could fix some of this, but she never took those classes.
Chelsea Clinton skipped the weird and hard but useful experiences that teach a broadcaster how to be the main thing that she seems to lack, which is how to be interesting. She has the poise that an education at Sidwell Friends School can develop, but lacks the chops of a thick-skinned broadcaster who knows a story when she sees one.
NBC hired her for two reasons: Having a Clinton on the marquee brings in eyeballs just for the gawk factor (and generates blog reviews that 99% of reporters will never generate), and to help season her for her eventual political life. She’ll run for office. Getting used to being on TV and delivering a focused message is part of her training for that. And when she runs, unless the relationship sours NBC will have the most access to her. Win win.