One of the unfortunate realities of writing about television news is a wholesale dependence on anonymous sources. In conflict with their stated mission of bringing daylight to opaque American institutions, news networks generally don’t let their folks speak freely about their workplaces.
And so we don’t know much about the people who helped Michael Hastings construct a delicious little hit piece on Chelsea Clinton for BuzzFeed. “Network executives” lamented her wan presence in interviews. “One senior staffer” predicted she’d be “terrible” on the small screen. “One NBC news staffer” signaled that “there’s resentment” over Clinton’s hiring and the privileges that Hastings documents, again via nameless sources.
All juicy, crunchy, salty morsels. The Clinton-NBC team-up furnishes just so much stuff to play with, and Hastings in this piece delivers details about town cars, live shots and other 30 Rock titillatia. Good on Hastings for rounding up some outraged NBCers.
Yet too bad all these anonymous sources are also shallow and mean creatures. That’s the revelation that hits us when we arrive at this particular passage of the Hastings piece:
Almost everyone I spoke to for this story—from within NBC and at other networks as well—agree that that problem is that she won’t talk about the one thing that makes her undeniably compelling. How did it feel to be Chelsea Clinton during the Monica years?
Spoken like true TV newspeople: There’s nothing that a little invasion of privacy won’t remedy!
To be fair to an unfair argument, Hastings and his sources are saying that Clinton’s puff pieces on do-gooders don’t make for great TV; she’s not a real reporter, and so on. One route to relevance and good ratings would be to talk about this dark moment in American history.
The piece notes that Clinton said in the past that her reflections on Monicagate are not “any of your business .” In pretty much the same breath, Hastings attempts to puncture that position, in this fashion:
The days of Chelsea having it both ways are over. It’s one thing to want your total privacy, and stay totally private; it’s another thing to want your total privacy while reaping all the rewards and privileges that contemporary celebrity has to offer.
Well articulated pap, right there.
The Lewinsky episode dates to the time Chelsea Clinton was a minor living with her parents. She bears no more obligation to reveal the secrets of her childhood than Hastings does his or the Erik Wemple Blogger does his. The unimpeachable principle that the children of presidents deserve privacy doesn’t carry an expiration date. It applies retroactively. What else must Clinton reveal about her formative years now that she’s leveraging her celebrity toward career ends? Everything?
Other ripe reasons to dispel this blather fall from the branch. The Lewinsky scandal was the most over-covered story of all time, to such a degree that the American public was begging for it to end. A Chelsea Clinton tell-all interview might pull in some viewers but it would be told in the same bland tones as Clinton’s other NBC work — and that is the problem here.
Plus: What’s with these NBC sources suggesting that the network pay Chelsea Clinton to tell all about a long-ago scandal, to score a “get” that not other outlet could possibly wrangle? That would come off a lot like checkbook journalism. If I were an NBC employee, I wouldn’t want such a suggestion attached to my name either.