By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 9, 2008
In case there was any doubt, using a prostitution metaphor for the daughter of a presidential candidate is not a good career move.
MSNBC suspended correspondent David Shuster yesterday for an undetermined period for making a disparaging on-air remark about Chelsea Clinton. Meanwhile, officials in her mother's campaign raised the possibility of punishing the news channel by boycotting future debates.
While filling in as a host Thursday, Shuster was discussing the 27-year-old's role in Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign with two guests when he asked: "Doesn't it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"
Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications director, called Shuster's remark "disgusting," "beneath contempt" and "the kind of thing that should never be said on a national news network." Wolfson appeared to suggest that Clinton is reconsidering an agreement this week to participate in an MSNBC debate Feb. 26 in Cleveland, saying: "I at this point can't envision doing another debate on that network."
Shuster, who plays a prominent role in MSNBC's political coverage, told viewers last night that his words were "inappropriate. . . . I apologize to the Clinton family, the Clinton campaign, and all of you who were justifiably offended. . . . I am particularly sorry that my language diminished the regard and respect she has earned from all of us and the respect her parents have earned in how they raised her."
In a statement, MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines called Shuster's language "irresponsible. . . . NBC News takes these matters seriously and offers our sincere regrets to the Clintons for the remarks." As for the scheduled debate between Clinton and Barack Obama, Gaines said network executives were talking to the Clinton camp "and we are hopeful that the event will take place as planned."
After Shuster made the remark on "Tucker," Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines contacted him and said the reference was offensive. Shuster e-mailed back that he was referring to the fact that Chelsea Clinton is making calls to convention superdelegates but refusing to talk to the press. After Shuster continued to defend himself, Phil Griffin, MSNBC's top executive, called Reines yesterday to apologize.
Wolfson noted that MSNBC's Chris Matthews expressed regret last month for suggesting that Hillary Clinton's political success can be traced to sympathy stemming from her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky. "At some point you have to question whether there is a pattern at this particular network," Wolfson said.