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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 08:14 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Chelsea Clinton’s quiet NBC debut

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Chelsea Clinton has spent a good many years avoiding the limelight. Escaping attention, huddling with her friends and family, being a thoughtful young woman.

And what do you know? She’s shy in front of a news camera.

Clinton last night made her debut as a reporter with NBC News, an occasion that yielded an explanation on why the network hired this brand name with no journalistic experience: “She has joined us because she wants to tell stories,” said host Brian Williams on “Rock Center with Brian Williams.” Hey, so do I!

The story that Clinton told was that of Annette Dove, an energetic woman who runs an afterschool outfit — Topps Inc. — for youth in Pine Bluff, Ark. The NBC reporter spent a segment nearly whispering questions and praise to Dove. Good thing that I already had the volume blasting on my Samsung television set.

The piece was of a kind in broadcast television: the story of a do-gooder and her important work. It’s not designed to be hard-hitting, tough stuff, and it’s part of NBC News’s “Making a Difference” series. But even within those parameters, Clinton appeared to be stealing the lines from Dove. Here’s one “question”:

You go with them to their juvenile hearings. You clearly go with them to their teacher conferences.

Another “question”:

You’ve given every dollar that you have and then some. That’s clearly been a challenge for you as much it’s also been your calling.

Dove’s responses to those statements appeared to be sincere and touching. And predictable, which is the factor that troubles the NBC-Clinton partnership in positive journalism. People doing good works out there — important though it is — doesn’t feel like news. It feels like the same story you’ve heard many times.

Clinton’s piece, to her credit, did begin to explore some of the drama of Pine Bluff. She interviewed some of the kids who relied on Dove’s fine facility. An 18-year-old boy told her, “My family really don’t take time out with me.” Had Clinton chosen to profile Dove’s outfit through his eyes, well, that would have made a difference.

Though the cub reporter could stand to amp it up a touch, she comes across well on camera. She has a good presence and speaks convincingly about her material. There’s no question that she cares about people doing good works. And on that sincerity front, she outdoes Williams himself, who went all drama king in his studio discussion with Clinton.

We highlight stories like this across the country. There [are] minor and major victories and I some days think without them the whole country would fall apart. And as I watch her and get to know her through your eyes, I want to know, how long can she sustain this and keep this going.

Italics added to highlight a shift in Williams’s voice to a higher octave, saccharine and whiny-concerned.

Related: A far more critical take from WaPo’s Hank Stuever.

And: Chelsea Clinton through the years.

By  |  08:14 AM ET, 12/13/2011

 
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