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Why I'm Rooting for Chelsea Clinton
April 30, 2012
I saw Chelsea Clinton on a segment of the NBC News program, Rock Center. She is quite good. So was the segment. It dealt with a national restaurant chain that is going to extra trouble and expense to give away food that is left over after the restaurant closes. The food feeds tens of thousands of hungry children. It is a great example of free market profitability combined with voluntary charity.
She is barely getting started in broadcast journalism. She was beaten to a pulp by print media pundits last December, after her first segment. They said she was bland, or worse. This Washington Post reviewer was condescending.
Rather, what was surprising to see on Monday night's show is how someone can be on TV in such a prominent way and, in her big moment, display so very little charisma -- none at all. Either we're spoiled by TV's unlimited population of giant personalities or this woman is one of the most boring people of her era.
Which is well within her rights to be.
The other reviewers were equally hostile.
Too many members of the mainstream media are afflicted by envy. These upper-middle-class pundits are resentful against those who have head starts in life. They think it's not fair. They want to pull down those who have such advantages. This is clear in their assessment of Chelsea Clinton's two performances.
If they are willing to turn on her, they will turn on anyone. They are burdened by resentment, and it shows.
I did not see the December segment. I cannot find it online. So, I judge her performance by what I saw on last week's segment. She was good. The story was good. I want you to watch it. But first, I need to give an overview of what constitutes a very good performance in a journalistic setting.
First, the person must be alert, but not visibly on edge. Any sign of underlying stress is a bad sign. The person must not be seen as being barely in control of his nervousness. He must also not be perceived as hyper. The presentation should be calm, but not boring. The person must be visibly and verbally comfortable. She displayed this in the final segment, when Brian Williams interviewed her. Let me tell you, this is not easy.
Second, the person must not stumble verbally. There must be no sense of not having the right words to say. Above all, there must be no "uhs."
Brian Williams does not possess this skill. He stumbles all the time. It's not annoying. He is human. He is lively enough to get away with it. In his interview of Chelsea, he stumbled. She was visibly calm and in complete control. This is not easy.
Third, the person must be consistent with whatever persona the news show wants. Mike Wallace was aggressive for 60 years. CBS did not use him for human interest stories. In contrast, the human interest TV journalist must be pleasant, yet not a pushover. He must ask decent questions, and then let the person being interviewed tell his story. He must not make the person nervous. If he is nervous, he cannot tell his story well.
A good example is the difference between Sunday Morning's Martha Teichner and Rita Braver. Teichner is the gravitas lady most of the time. She looks at the Big Picture. Braver is the bubbly lady who gets to speak with celebrities, and who asks the kinds of questions we might ask, if we knew enough about the person. Hers are not "softball" questions. They are "tell us more about yourself" questions.
NBC has hired Chelsea Clinton to ask "What is this all about, from your point of view?" questions. She does this exactly right. She does not make the person nervous. Who wouldn't want to be interviewed by the young woman we all saw growing up? He wants to make her performance look good. As a result, he looks good. It's a win-win deal.
That's what NBC is paying for. She delivers.
I did interviews for over 20 years on tape. I was good at it. I know what it takes to get people to talk. Chelsea Clinton has what it takes.
One critic said this.
The learning curve for Chelsea Clinton, special correspondent, continues to bend in the wrong direction.
If her learning curve is going in the wrong direction, she must have been spectacular in December. But by all accounts, she wasn't.
Clinton's Wednesday night report on chain restaurants that donate leftover food to charity was slightly better than her previous efforts. But only because the producers used every trick in the book to give us less Chelsea and more of anything they could find to distract us from her. Less was marginally more.
I saw a confident, well-spoken 31-year old woman who handles herself well in front of a camera. But this critic did not see what I saw. He attributes whatever success she had to producers. That's what producers are paid to do. This critic needs an editor who does what producers do: make him look good. He does not have one.
They used her in voiceover a lot so that she didn't actually have to be on camera and talking at the same time as much. (Yes, it is like walking and chewing gum for most correspondents, but it seems to be too much for her.)
This was a cheap shot, and one not supported by the facts. Her performance in the post-segment interview was no voiceover. She handled herself well.
This guy is a bully. More than this: he is a bully who misleads his readers. This is unconscionable.
I am both a print media professional and a public speaking professional. I have been both for over four decades. When I saw her interviewed by Williams, I saw nothing except professional excellence. She never made a mistake. Try this sometime. It is not easy.
The poor schnook who criticized her cannot match her in this regard. Read this:
I say it's time for someone to show some mercy, if not simple good sense, and end this sorry specatcle of nepotism -- especially at this time when so many young adults who have prepared for careers with their college majors and internships can't even get entry level jobs in an economy her dad helped create.
The Baltimore Sun needs a proofreader -- so that our critic does not again make a specatcle of himself.
This print media professional does not know what the word "nepotism" means. It does not mean "hiring the relative of a celebrity." It means "hiring a relative." Wikipedia defines it as follows:
Nepotism is favoritism granted to relatives regardless of merit. The word nepotism is from the Latin word nepos, nepotis (m. "nephew"), from which modern Romanian nepot and Italian nipote, "nephew" or "grandchild" are also descended."
Here is a man who makes his living as a writer, and who cannot use the English language properly. In contrast, she is working on a Ph,D. at Oxford University.
The guy works for the Baltimore Sun. So did H. L. Mencken, who wrote The American Language. To paraphrase our critic, "The learning curve for the Baltimore Sun continues to bend in the wrong direction."
You be the judge.
Chelsea Clinton is a talking head who can talk. I hope she keeps being assigned human interest stories like this one.
I also hope she gets her Ph.D. It's an achievement that her critics never achieved. Maybe it will shut them up. But probably not. What will shut them up is if NBC will keep using her, and the producers can find stories suitable for her skills. The critics will finally go on to other fish to fry, other celebrities to roast.
To Chelsea, I say: stick to your knitting. The viewers will decide, not the no-name pundits.