Commentary: Cha Clinton on TV news
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton's debut on NBC's "Nightly News" is drawing plenty of attention, as well it should. Since her father's election nearly 20 years ago, the Clintons set an example of real family values by doing everything they could to keep Chelsea out of the spotlight and allow her to live as normal of a life as possible. By all outside indicators, it worked. She has grown up to be a young woman of intelligence, character and commitment. The press, for its part, pretty much left her alone.
Until she became one of them, sort of.
When NBC announced her three-month contract, Clinton was roundly criticized both for joining the ranks of those she had studiously avoided and for not making herself available for interviews when she did. The first criticism seemed silly. Politicians and their kids are a fixture on television news, even those who once complained about how unfairly they were treated by the media and even by the very networks for whom they now work.
Meghan McCain's father, former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, never has been a fan of MSNBC, which didn't -- and shouldn't -- stop his daughter from working there. I am sure George W. Bush tunes in whenever his daughter Jenna appears on NBC's "Today" show, although he has been skewered more times than he might choose to count by the network that produces "Saturday Night Live." Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is prepping her new show at Current TV; while Sarah Palin and "Huckabee" are staples at Fox.
Clinton probably did make a mistake in not appearing at a press conference when her hiring was announced -- not because she would have said any more than the press release, but because it gave the media something more legitimate to complain about. So be it.
But her first report on Monday night demonstrated why her decision makes perfect sense. It was a report on a woman in President Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas who has devoted herself to providing after-school support for at-risk kids. It was the kind of story that networks do now and again -- the "hero of the week" type of thing -- and that gets almost no attention. Because Chelsea Clinton did it, it got plenty of attention.
That is precisely the point.
Some people seek out celebrity. Others are born into it. What troubles me, frankly, is when parents use their children to make celebrities of themselves (you can fill in the names here) or push their children to take on the trappings of celebrity that they aren't able to handle (another easy fill-in-the-blank exercise). But Clinton is no longer a child, and she will always be a celebrity. The question that matters now that she is an adult is how she will use it.
In explaining her decision to go public, as if she weren't already, Clinton said her grandmother, Dorothy Rodham, who died last month, urged her to do more with her fame. Taking her advice, Clinton decided to lead a "purposefully public life."
Let's be honest here. Chelsea Clinton is famous and will be for some time to come. She could use that fame to get a front-row seat at the fashion shows, to get invited to the best Oscar parties, to get designers and jewelers to lend her their baubles. She could sell pictures of her private life for a pretty penny to any magazine or tabloid in the world, as so many celebrities do. She could turn her life into a reality show.
Being famous gives you power that others don't have. It gives you the power to set an example, good or bad. It gives you the power to be noticed, for better or for worse.
It gives you the power to tell a story that will (only) be noticed because you tell it.
Susan Estrich's e-mail address is email@example.com.