The report comes from Page Six, so take it with a grain of salt: “A source told us, ‘NBC, along with all the major networks, have been trying to sign Pippa for some time. NBC is set to make a fresh approach to her following the interview.’ The source added NBC’s offer to Pippa could be for her to take a similar role as Chelsea Clinton’s on ‘Today,’ appearing in special reports rather than dishing on her famous family.”
But even heavily seasoned, the idea is one nasty bit of gristle to try to force down. Please, NBC. For the love of all that is dignified, stop hiring women who are related to somewhat-more-famous people. Stop it immediately. It is going to take you long enough to recover from the debacle of Chelsea Clinton’s salary, which gives credence to the idea that the network is running its business like a club promoter, rather than a news organization, desperately hoping that famous faces will fill the banquets.
The logic behind these hires is the same as that which motivates political campaigns to sign up celebrity endorsers and trot them out at campaign events: a secret, insecure belief that politics and policy are boring, and that constituents (or viewers) must be tricked into paying attention to them.
Politics can undergo this sort of theater, because it only requires that constituencies pay attention some of the time. As lovely as it might be if the populace were consistently engaged with the business of government, citizens do not have to show up every day for legislatures, executive branches and most offices of the judiciary to work. So what if every few years, a candidate entertains supporters with a Jay Z concert, or enlists a hipster celebrity to push an initiative? The core business model of politics and governance goes untouched.
Media, on the other hand, requires that viewers or readers show up on a regular basis. In this context, signing up celebrities, or quasi-celebrities, to ongoing contracts in the hopes that some alchemical process will transfer our interest in them to an interest in the news is a terrible admission of defeat. Hiring Pippa Middleton or Chelsea Clinton or Jenna Bush Hager is an acknowledgement that journalists cannot make their own subject matter interesting in any consistent way.
All of these women are potentially worthy subjects for interviews. Hager’s work for UNICEF and with reading programs and Clinton’s work in the Clinton Global Foundation have potential news pegs, and Middleton’s work in catering and event planning could work, I suppose, for a morning show segment. But that does not mean these women have actual interest in reporting, interviewing or explaining the news. Hager comes closest to actually meeting that standard, though doing spots for “Today” is only one of her professional obligations.
There is something deeply condescending, both to the business of journalism and to these women themselves, in the practice of treating writing and reporting as if it is a side hustle for society ladies, something to fill up the time and give the appearance of industry in between luncheons or in the transition between a private-sector job and substantive non-profit work. Hires like these treat journalism as if it needs ornamentation and reduces the women in question to ornaments.
It is a difficult time to be in the television business. I understand looking in envy at other business models, at clickbait and at TMZ. But NBC has conducted enough of these compromising experiments. The network should nuke this rumor as soon as possible if it is untrue, and then figure out how it got here.