Celebukid Reporters and the Age of News-ertainment
So, Chelsea Clinton is joining NBC "News" to "report" on "Making a Difference." We'll pause here as you get out all of the obvious jokes. (Pause.) Great. Now, let's take a moment to contemplate just how vapid our nation's most powerful "news" networks really are.
Here's a quote from NBC "News" president Steve Capus: "Chelsea is a remarkable woman who will be a great addition to NBC News. Given her vast experiences, it's as though Chelsea has been preparing for this opportunity her entire life." Yes, Steve, you've nailed it. You've summed up the problem perfectly. Chelsea Clinton, who has lived the life least resembling that of a normal American, is best prepared to be a member of a network "news" division. That is because network "news" divisions are nothing but barely-differentiated parts of a much larger corporate entertainment complex that exists to entertain Americans in order to make money. Let us simply admit and recognize that, despite whatever pap about Walter Cronkite and Decision 2012 and Journalistic Integrity they want to make, network "news" is an entertainment business. It has as much to do with journalism as CSI has to do with the day-do-day life of a policeman.
Even after the rise of cable news and online news, network "news" broadcasts are still the biggest single unified source of news. Far more Americans get their "news" from a TV network "news" operation than from any other particular outlet. Network "news" is, therefore, still quite important. There are a very limited number of jobs for network "news" journalists. Logic, then, would dictate that those jobs should go to the very best TV journalists in America. Instead, those jobs go to political celebrity children like Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush, media celebrity children like Luke Russert, and—perhaps most egregiously—to open political operatives like George Stephanopolous. Nothing whatsoever can disqualify someone from being hired as a network "news" journalist, except perhaps ugliness.
None of this is "news," of course. It's become the way of the world to such an extent that it's no longer noticeable; the wholesale disappearance of basic, common sense hiring standards from network "news" operations has gone on so long that it prompts only cynicism and jokes now, rather than any real sense of shock. I am suggesting only this: let's stop pretending, in our nation's public dialogue, that network "news" operations are engaged in journalism. Let us treat them as entertainment divisions, which is what they are. Let's discuss the hiring of Chelsea Clinton at NBC "News" the same way we would discuss if she were hired as new guest star on Two and a Half Men. It doesn't matter if Brian Williams appears on Saturday Night Live and makes jokes on Letterman, or if network "reporters" seamlessly transition between "news" shows and morning cooking segments, or if the children of powerful political figures are rewarded with plum appointments in "news" divisions as part of the relentless American star-making apparatus, earning the massive corporate parent companies a valuable political ally along the way. All of these people are in the entertainment business. They sell distraction for money. If you are looking for journalism, there's plenty of it out there in the world—even on television—but it will not be found at these network "news" divisions, where attractive people with good hair allow fringe Presidential candidates to pontificate on Sunday mornings simply to fill time between pharmaceutical ads.
All of these people are entertainers. Let's refer to them that way. Saying these people are in the "news" business is an insult to, you know, news.