Few people in the media were willing to denounce NBC's hiring of self-evidently under-qualified Chelsea Clinton as a reporter on "Rock Center" and "NBC Nightly News." One rare bird is Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik, who mocked NBC News boss Steve Capus for claiming Chelsea "had been preparing her whole life" for this job. He called it "one of the most outrageous and disconnected-from-reality statements I have ever heard from the mouth of a news president in 30 years of reporting on the networks."
Zurawik loved how Michael Hastings at the site BuzzFeed dug up NBC insiders who thought Chelsea the "Dork Diva" was going to be "terrible" on NBC. Chelsea was offered to several networks as a glorious gift from Bill and Hill to the media:
“Horrible,” says another high ranking TV executive who met with Chelsea. “There were ground rules, what she could and couldn’t report, only good news, no politics, ” says the executive, who felt Chelsea would be a dud and passed.
There was a sense in the meetings that that the news channels were auditioning for her — not the other way around — which rubbed a few of those she met with the wrong way. “They acted like we should be grateful” that she was offering herself to the networks, says the exec.
Even high ranking company officials within NBC, according to sources at 30 Rock, weren’t that impressed with her. One senior staffer told colleagues after multiple meetings that Chelsea was going to be simply “terrible” on television. Upon her arrival, Chelsea was given a welcome bag, filled with NBC swag, 30 Rockers tell me. NBC’s David Gregory responded by jokingly asking: “Where’s my welcome bag?”
Gregory’s joke hints at the unprecedented level of special treatment Chelsea receives: she didn’t do live shots on her Rock Center debut; she gets chauffeured everywhere in a town car while others her age strap hang with the suckers in Gotham’s sewers; she has her own personal spokesperson; and she has her own chief-of-staff, Bari Lurie. (Lurie is to Chelsea what Huma Abedin is to Hillary: a fiercely loyal female aide and confidante, who logged over 7,000 miles with her during the 2008 campaign.) Other top talent at the network noticed that luxury: Lester Holt, Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales, and Savannah Guthrie all share a single assistant. (An NBC spokesperson says, however, that Chelsea pays for her own chief of staff.)
Not to mention how all the kids in NBC reacted. “The message was, ‘You didn’t waste your journalism degree,’” says one NBC news staffer. “There’s resentment.” The critical reception of her debut on Rock Center wasn’t great, either: the Washington Post described her as “one of the most boring people of her era.” And, NBC sources say, for her debut, they pre-taped her intro interview with Brian Williams at least twice (they ended up using the first taping,) an unusual move for what’s presented as a spontaneous interview.
Chelsea just renewed her original three-month contract, but there isn’t much to show for it. “Almost nothing,” is how one well-placed industry observer describes her tenure at NBC. The industry observer, who has had dealings with Team Chelsea, continues: “Certainly she’s not operating as a reporter. You need a regular presence to become established and break through. Yes, she has world wide name recognition at a young age, but you still have to do the work and show up on screen.”
So far, she’s only done three Making A Difference segments in five months, they found. It's what the word "dilettante" describes, applied to journalism. Hastings added:
I did find one defender of Chelsea inside NBC. “Everyone needs to get a grip,” says this high level executive. “She’s hardworking, she’s taking it very seriously. She really wants to genuinely do these Making a Difference pieces. She knows she’s a lightning rod. When people write nasty things, she takes the lumps.” After all the bad press during the roll out, there were fears Chelsea was going to pack it in. Instead, she decided to tough it out. “I respect that,” says the NBC insider. Clinton’s personal spokesperson, Matt McKenna, had strong words for her detractors: "When Chelsea's critics are ready to step forward and use their names, she'll be more than happy to answer them. In the meantime, she's enjoying working for NBC and NBC is glad she's a part of their team."
Maybe he didn't realize her supporters would also hide their names. Who wants to guess that the "get a grip" executive is actually Capus? Or Brian Williams?