David Shuster Suspended for Chelsea ‘Pimped Out’ Remark

MSNBC’s David Shuster has been suspended for his on-air musing, “Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?”

I saw the news yesterday evening and didn’t find it particularly interesting but apparently I’m alone, in that it’s getting the mega treatment at Memeorandum.

Howie Kurtz, the media critics’ media critic, gets page C1 for the story.

In case there was any doubt, using a prostitution metaphor for the daughter of a presidential candidate is not a good career move.

MSNBC suspended correspondent David Shuster yesterday for an undetermined period for making a disparaging on-air remark about Chelsea Clinton. Meanwhile, officials in her mother’s campaign raised the possibility of punishing the news channel by boycotting future debates.

While filling in as a host Thursday, Shuster was discussing the 27-year-old’s role in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign with two guests when he asked: “Doesn’t it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?”

Howard Wolfson, the campaign’s communications director, called Shuster’s remark “disgusting,” “beneath contempt” and “the kind of thing that should never be said on a national news network.” Wolfson appeared to suggest that Clinton is reconsidering an agreement this week to participate in an MSNBC debate Feb. 26 in Cleveland, saying: “I at this point can’t envision doing another debate on that network.”

Shuster, who plays a prominent role in MSNBC’s political coverage, told viewers last night that his words were “inappropriate. . . . I apologize to the Clinton family, the Clinton campaign, and all of you who were justifiably offended. . . . I am particularly sorry that my language diminished the regard and respect she has earned from all of us and the respect her parents have earned in how they raised her.”


Wolfson noted that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews expressed regret last month for suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s political success can be traced to sympathy stemming from her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. “At some point you have to question whether there is a pattern at this particular network,” Wolfson said.

I’m no fan of Shuster. Indeed, he’s a total and utter hack and MSNBC should be ashamed they can’t find a more serious journalist to put on their air.

But these remarks aren’t worthy of tut-tutting, let alone firing. Ace, who shares my view of Shuster but more colorfully, gets it right: “It’s a common expression now. We know it doesn’t literally mean ‘turning out as a whore.'” Quite so.

Shuster’s analysis is rather silly — it’s pretty common for adult children of candidates to be trotted around during the campaign — but his word choice is completely unobjectionable unless one’s campaign is imploding and desperate to make political hay. TPM’s Greg Sargent seems to agree that this is precisely what’s happening.

And, frankly, Matthews was exactly right in his remarks. Hillary Clinton got a huge bounce in public sympathy after the Lewinsky affair, without which her successful Senate bid and multi-million dollar book deal simply wouldn’t have happened.

Digby, though, feels the Clintons are right to be offended.

My suspicion is that the bigger questions about all this have been lost on the MSNBC crew as they circle their wagons and get more and more defensive. They’ve sublimated their own discomfort(shame?)with this discussion by making it into a political/journalistic turf battle, when in fact, it’s something much more psychological/sociological.

Matthews is somewhat deranged on this subject, because he sees the entire political system through some sort of gender prism, so he’s a special case, but the other offenders could be caught up in this out of a sort of collegian loyalty which has morphed into outright hostility toward people who are “making” them feel uncomfortable with their own behavior. It snowballs to the point where nobody knows what’s true anymore.

The defensiveness doesn’t surprise me. Journalists think it’s their role to criticize politicians but don’t think it’s fair game for the politicians to fire back.

Maybe she’s right that, “it behooves all of us to be skeptical of news organizations that behave like adolescents, no matter where your political allegiances lie.” Certainly, you wouldn’t have caught Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley or John Chancellor or any of the biggies from a generation ago using this kind of language. (Although, come to think of it, there was an open mic incident late in Brinkley’s career.)

But the business has changed. These channels are on 24/7/365, trotting about people to fill the time with what amounts to idle speculation. It’s only natural that they’re going to say some really stupid things or even phrase some smart observations in inappropriate ways. That’s even more likely when there are three of them competing for a rather limited set of eyeballs. Rather than go Walter Cronkite on us, they’re trying to be hip and fresh with yahoos like Shuster.

UPDATE: Olbermann Watch wonders why Keith Olbermann felt the need to apologize for his MSNBC roster-mate’s using the phrase “pimp out” in relation to the Clintons but not his own use of “pimping General David Petraeus.” Cox has a very special video remix.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Blogosphere, Media, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay says:

    “Pimp” has been such a generic verb, surprisingly detached from the seedy connotation, that it’s the kind of thing I’d have said without imagining I’d be in trouble.

    Take a typical modern usage: I pimped my blog. It means “I promoted my blog,” but implies there might have been a bit of the shameless or over the top about said pimpage.

    There is no mental association with prostitution at that point, apart from maybe to imply that pimps are brilliant, if over the top and sometimes crossing into sleazy, marketers and promoters of their wares.

  2. Bithead says:

    In the end, what upsets the Clintonistas so, is that Shuster got it right, and said in the end the only thing there was to say o the topic, with any truth in it.

    In the end, this Clintonista “Outrage” and the ‘poor me’ tears are both calculated responses to her not getting the votes she wants… a ploy for sympathy.

    I don’t recall the Clintons getting all that upset about ‘Trailer Park Trash’, do you? And let’s assume for the moment that she manages to get the nomination. Think the jabs at McCain are going to be any different in quality?

  3. Dantheman says:

    “But these remarks aren’t worthy of tut-tutting, let alone firing”

    So when Romney brought his 5 sons on to the campaign trail, how many sexual metaphors were used with respect to them? Or is sexual innuendo reserved for Clintons alone?

  4. James Joyner says:

    Or is sexual innuendo reserved for Clintons alone?

    The point of the post is that there was no sexual innuendo used here. Indeed, it’s an absurd leap to claim that Shuster was suggesting that Chelsea was somehow trading sexual favors for political support for her mother.

  5. Pjsbro says:

    Shuster was asking a question:

    “Doesn’t it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in
    some weird sort of way?”

    I’m no Shuster fan, but if you look at his e-mail exchange with Hillary’s press secretary it’s clear he was asking if the campaign was:


    Chelsea so soon after she was off limits to the press.

    And as a follow up, I would ask:

    Doesn’t it seem as if Chelsea is still sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?

  6. Jack O'Toole says:


    I hate to sound hopelessly old-fashioned, but aren’t we overcomplicating matters a bit here?

    This story isn’t about feminism or political correctness or the twenty-four-hour news hole. It’s about the fact that a gentleman doesn’t call a woman a whore. Not even if he’s speaking metaphorically. Not even if he’s trying to be edgy. Not even if he’s talking about a young lady who had the unforgivably bad taste — heaven forfend! — to be born a Clinton.

    He just doesn’t do it. Period. Full stop.

    Now, I realize that it’s all the rage these days for the boys on the Airbus to try to sound like characters in a Raymond Chandler novel. And most of the time, I’m as amused as anyone by their Bowery-by-way-of-Harvard pretensions. But when one of them crosses the line, as Shuster did here, I expect him to stand up, straighten his tie, and apologize like a man.

    After all, isn’t that what Philip Marlowe would do?

  7. Dantheman says:

    “The point of the post is that there was no sexual innuendo used here.”

    I’ll disagree. I’m no fan of the Clintons, but “pimped” is a word full of sexual meaning. And given the percentage of the time Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, etc. on that network turn everything involving the Clintons into sexual humor, it is hardly a jump to see that here.

  8. yetanotherjohn says:
  9. capital L says:

    “It’s about the fact that a gentleman doesn’t call a woman a whore.”

    You might be on to something here. Keith Olbermann accused Bush of pimping Gen. Petraeus, and he’s still got his job. I mean, its not as if there some sort of media double standard on accusing politicians of “pimping” people.

  10. SteveMG says:

    Lesson for the cable heads: Don’t try to sound like Jon Stewart. You can’t do it and really shouldn’t try anyway.

    Second, Shuster is (was?) the national correspondent for MSNBC. He’s not a commentator, he’s not a pundit, he’s not an analysis. He’s supposed to be a objective, straight reporter.

    Yeah, I had a hard time typing that last sentence without laughing. His bias and tendentious “journalism” is obvious.

    Anyway, he could have made the same larger point by simply using “sent out” or “pressured”. Why not use those words instead? Let Stewart or Maher be the provocateurs.

    News correspondents for major news organization’s shouldn’t – just should not – be using the word “pimping” to describe the campaign activity of candidate’s families.

    Never, never, never.

  11. DavidL says:

    It is quite true that a gentleman should ever call a lady a whore. However David Shuster is no gentlemen. The only gentlemen in the employ of MSNBC are the men’s room attendants.

    Further, while Mrs. Clinton may be a female, she certainly no lady. Mrs. Clinton has been trashing her husband’s girl friends and assualt victims for decade as whores or worst. The Clintons show no repect toward women, and certainly are not entitled to any in return.

    As for Miss Clinton. She is twenty-seven years old. Either she realizes that parents were most misogynic couple ever to occupy the White House, or Chelsea is willfully dumb. If Miss Clinton wants to campaign for and endorse the a pair misogynists. like her parents, it is only right to question Miss Clinton.

    I did not give a free pass to Caroline Kennedy for her endorsment of the Camelot myth and neither am I inclined to give Miss Clinton a free pass. These woman are adults, they need to learn some history.

  12. slick says:

    the respect her parents have earned in how they raised her

    I just threw up in my mouth.

    Why can’t someone even apologize like a normal human being these days.

    How about “I’m sorry I used the term ‘pimped’. It was inappropriate. My apologies to the ClLinton family”. Next! Not another word need be said.

    Shuster’s groveling is far more offensive than his original faux pas.

    As silly as it was, the question he asked is certainly legitimate. Why ask a question when you know the answer? To fill up media airspace. The answer is YES. Of course the CLinton’s are using Chelsea to win votes. Duh. Is that a newsflash? How many politicians use their families to win votes? Many. Is it such a bad thing? No.

    How tiresome is the Clinton’s victimhood strategy? They have such a bunker mentality bordering on paranoia. If it isn’t the VRWC – it’s the madia’s that not giving them a fair shake. Boohoohoo!

    It’s way past time to yank this horrible family out of the public’s eye. Enough already!

  13. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    The Clinton campaign just spoke power to truth, and all the pious “first-amendment rights” in the MSM arsenal avail as nothing. Shuster’s a jerk, but who in the MSM ever grovelled thus when it was a Republican on the receiving end of a nasty comment?

    Thought for the future: in a Hillary administration, how long will it take for blogs themselves be under threat of obliteration for crude remarks about Her Highness and her handmaidens and gentlemen-in-waiting?

  14. Diggs says:

    Believe me, the Clintons know a whore when they see one. As a general Clinton rule, a female has to have been on the receiving end of a Bill sexual pass/assault to be a whore. Chelsea doesn’t fit into that definition.

  15. graywolf says:

    I love it!!!

    Shuster – a longtime mouthpiece for the dem cong – hoisted on his own petard.

    Be careful what you wish for.
    The left wants all “offending speech” (whatever that is) censured.

    The left’s shills (especially MSNBC) gets bitten by their own Stalinist-think.

    What a bunch of thumb-sucking crybabies.

  16. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think instapundit says it best.

    Attention MSNBC journalists. You are not reporting on this campaign, you are acting as mouthpieces for the Clintons. It’s their network, you just broadcast here.

  17. dave says:

    If this was said about Obama’s children are his wife there would be no attempt to defend this. As a Obama supporter, I am glad his campaign came out and deplored Shuster’s comments. Finally, the fact that some young people choose to add this word to their lexicon does not mean that if should be forced into mine. “African American youngsters see nothing wrong with the “N” word. to them it is a term of endearment. Therefore, if a young African American pundit said Obama is my “N”, should we assume that to be okay because there are some who do not find the word offensive. MSNBC is a disgrace. Their bias to the Clinton has really become evident.

  18. Bandit says:

    If he had said the Bushes were pimping their daughters to foreign sheiks he’s have gotten his own show.

  19. teach says:

    Just check out this story at Media Matters to see that Shuster and the entire jock-strap crowd at MSNBC have a LONG pattern of misogynistic language, not only towards Hillary and now Chelsea, but even towards their own female ‘correspondents.”

  20. don berkley says:

    he should have not said it, i don’t think he would appreciate someone on national TV saying that about his wife or daughter. i think he should openly apologies to Chelsea on national television.

  21. Bandit says:

    i think he should openly apologies to Chelsea on national television.

    He already did.