Brian Williams at least should have known better.
Monday's "Rock Center" featured the kind of piece the show said would be its calling card: A report by Ted Koppel — his first for the program — on the swamp that is Iraq, and concerns about Iran's influence there. "No Exit" was the title, and it was a sobering, informative examination of the U.S.' announced departure, something anybody who cares about foreign policy would have benefited from watching.
Instead, all the chatter on Tuesday was about Chelsea Clinton's debut as a correspondent, with a touchy-feely story — under the heading "Making a Difference" — about a woman who helps out kids in her home state of Arkansas.
Critic Eric Deggans got it right in his analysis, under a headline that pretty much said it all: Poor Ted Koppel: Chelsea Clinton debut overshadows fine Iraq reporting on Monday's Rock Center.
Clinton's human-interest story was fine for a network morning show, perhaps, even if the former First Daughter came across as a little stiff, with a lot to work on if she really intends to make a career in broadcasting. But it wasn't the kind of journalism that will put the NBC News magazine on the map. And frankly, if NBC had really wanted to showcase her, in hindsight, they should have included her on the premiere of "Fear Factor," surrounded by beetles or something.
All the piece really demonstrated, in fact, was what everyone assumed when it was announced she was joining NBC News: That hiring Clinton is a stunt, in the same way recruiting George W. Bush's daughter, Jenna Hager, was. What NBC seems oblivious to is how poorly such moves will be perceived by other journalists, who — especially in this economy — don't relish the notion that anybody with a famous last name can do their jobs, without any formal training or background.
When "Rock Center" premiered, the producers said they were determined not to "chase every shiny thing" just because they were broadcasting live. And the show has mostly held to that pledge.
Alas, they're clearly not above dangling shiny things, trying to get the rest of the media's attention.