America’s Hereditary Celebrity Class

Chelsea Clinton's hiring as an NBC personality is another hit for the meritocracy myth.


Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to Walter Russell Mead‘s posting on Chelsea Clinton’s hiring by NBC News.

In another win for the famously blind meritocracy that rules American life, rewarding the ultra-talented and pushing the less brilliant and skilled into the outer darkness, Chelsea Clinton has landed a coveted position at NBC News. This was almost as much a surprise as her admission to Stanford; one can only marvel at the sheer guts and talent that have enabled her to overcome our society’s fixed aversion to giving a chance to the relatives of the rich and the prominent.

On a more serious note, I know of no reason why the younger Ms Clinton should not have this or any job. But the increasing sense that this country is run by a hereditary celebrity class is one of the most corrosive and dangerous forces eating away at our common life.

The children of famous politicians could do our country an immense service if they sought out ways to serve that were more low profile.  This would be particularly true for the children of extremely rich politicians.

I fully agree with Mead but am surprised that Glenn does, given his complete dismissal of the Occupy movement. Whatever silliness might surround the protests, the sense that the game is rigged and that meritocracy is a fraud is central to the movement.

None of this is to say that Chelsea Clinton isn’t a very bright young woman or that NBC’s hiring of her is a bad business decision or some sort of unspeakable travesty. The fact of the matter is that television news has been moving in the direction of infotainment for the better part of three decades now and having famous people on helps draw an audience. Are there hundreds of people who are objectively more qualified, in terms of having paid their dues? Sure. It just doesn’t matter. The business of news is business and hiring Chelsea Clinton probably makes sense. After all, the network has already blazed this trail with Jenna Bush and Meghan McCain.

It’s actually more problematic, frankly, that Chelsea Clinton has a blank check for a career in elective politics if she so chooses than that she’s a media celebrity. Like her mother before her–not to mention Al Gore, George W. Bush, and lots of Kennedys, Rockefellers, Daleys, and others–being related to a successful and prominent politician is an enormous head start.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Media, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moderate Mom says:

    Maybe she will shine, and prove the naysayers wrong. On the other hand, she could wind up being a disaster, showing no aptitude for broadcast journalism. Only time, and some reporting for us to see, will tell. I’ll save my outrage for when and if she flames out.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    And what about Luke Russert – his only qualification was he was the son of Tim.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I think you have it right, James. It’s not that Chelsea will be bad at the job, who knows? Maybe she’ll be great. And NBC is free to do what it likes. (Currently that appears to involve destroying the network.)

    It’s the message that society sends to people: stay in school, work hard, do all the right things and then have the dumb luck to be a celebrity kid.

    Of course this is no different in reality than so-called legacies in colleges, or even my dad’s sweet but misguided notion of getting me into West Point when he was connected as captain of the army’s Potomac-going yacht.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    See also: legacy admissions to university, jobs given out because so and so is daddy’s friend, etc.

    But the increasing sense that this country is run by a hereditary celebrity class is one of the most corrosive and dangerous forces eating away at our common life

    Exactly. Broken clocks, twice a day, etc.

    It’s not that we have to construct a perfect meritocracy with absolute equality of opportunity (such a thing is impossible). But if people cannot reasonably believe that they’ve got a fair shot, things can get ugly.

    It’s not just wealth, either. De facto inequality under the law appears to apply as well. Elites caught breaking laws often weasel out of trouble, whereas Joe Schmoe ends up in prison.

    Corrosive is exactly the right word.

  5. ponce says:

    Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to Walter Russell Mead‘s posting on Chelsea Clinton’s hiring by NBC News.

    I think lifelong government employee Instacracker is just making a backdoor attack on all the nepotism hires like Jonah Goldberg and Bill Kristol who sit above him in the wingnut propaganda heirarchy.

  6. Loviatar says:

    I fully agree with Mead but am surprised that Glenn does, given his complete dismissal of the Occupy movement.

    Its the Clinton twitch, he saw the name Clinton and he attacked.

    You should see what he wrote about George Clinton.

  7. matt b says:

    Our (Americans) relationship to meritocracy is a really fascinating bundle of contradictions. This made me think about the question of inheritance.

    One one side there seems to be a general disdain for this sort of nepo-tocracy. However, I suspect that many of these same critics are among the first to argue for the elimination of estate taxes.

    The argument for the latter is that one has earned the right to pass on the products of their labor to their children.

    But isn’t that essentially the same case with a nepo-tocracy – i.e. the next generation inherit some of the prestige that the previous generation accrued.

  8. Connections get people jobs, that’s been a fact of life for a long time.

    Ron mentioned Luke Russert, and that’s a valid point, but it’s worth mentioning the fact that his father didn’t exactly “make his bones” in journalism before getting hired by NBC’s Washington bureau and then becoming head of that bureau, and host of the longest running news show on television only six years later. Russert’s experience before that was in politics, working for Senator Moniyhan and Governor Mario Cuomo.

    You can cry about it being “unfair” because some other journalist who had started out at some local station in Mississippi never had that opportunity. But, you know what? Life isn’t always fair. Even with his connections, Russert would not have lasted long if he sucked.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: One of those rare times I agree with you Doug. I suspect this is not so much about meritocracy as it is that news is now infotainment and the networks are always looking for celebrities.

  10. superdestroyer says:

    People need to understand that connections are more important in career fields that are log-normally distributed (a few get rich and most people fail), that have barriers for persons entering are lower (low credentials like actors versus high credentials such as brain surgeons), and an industry that has high barriers to access (so many people want to be actors or journalist that the industries have to isolate decision makers from the wannabes). Look at how many actors are the children of actors. There is no credential that makes a person an actor, the movie and television show work very hard to avoid wannabes, and a few people get rich while most people fail.

  11. JKB says:

    Whatever silliness might surround the protests, the sense that the game is rigged and that meritocracy is a fraud is central to the movement.

    The problem is, the occupy protesters’ solution is adoption not removal of barriers. They want more government to make the rich take them in rather than tearing down the false barriers that impede those who can compete on merit. They want government choosing winners rather than opening up the field to entrepreneurs.

    As Doug says, connections matter. Also, exposure. Being raised around and being exposed to people in an industry can give you a leg up. Whether it be politics, business or plumbing, learning it by being around those doing it is far better than just classroom or tech school training. But if your daddy or mommy isn’t in a position to give you those advantages or an uncle who can get you in the union, you need an open free market to compete against the privileged. You want a meritocracy, less government to enforce unnecessary licensure, and privilege for unions, professional societies and and other “guilds”.

  12. Barry says:

    James: “I fully agree with Mead but am surprised that Glenn does, given his complete dismissal of the Occupy movement. Whatever silliness might surround the protests, the sense that the game is rigged and that meritocracy is a fraud is central to the movement.”

    That’s simple – Chelsea is the Evul Spawn of Evul Librulz. Now, hiring the numerous and equally useless offspring of the right’s elites is undoubtedly an example of meritocracy.

  13. Barry says:

    @JKB: “The problem is, the occupy protesters’ solution is adoption not removal of barriers. They want more government to make the rich take them in rather than tearing down the false barriers that impede those who can compete on merit. They want government choosing winners rather than opening up the field to entrepreneurs. ”

    Perhaps you should learn what they actually want.