08 February 2008

Shushing Shuster

MSNBC Reporter David Shuster has been suspended for three weeks on all NBC outlets after his comments last week concerning Chelsea Clinton's role on the campaign trail.

Shuster was on the “Tucker” show observing about the efforts to woo Democratic Superdelegates and that the Clinton campaign had “pimped out” the first daughter to make calls on behalf of her mother. Perhaps Shuster spent too long on the Straight Talk Express in his prior coverage of McCain campaign.

After Hillary Communication Director Paul Wolfson condemned Shuster’s comments as being disgusting and “beneath contempt”, Wolfson implied that Hillary might boycott future MSNBC debates. Wolfson objected to a prior comment by MSNBC host Chris Matthews that Hillary’s political career had been made possible by her husbands philandering, to which Matthews later apologized.

This episode seem to show that Federal Washington is just not hip to the mainstreaming of gangsta culture. After all, the Oscar winning Best Song in 2005 was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” by the Three Six Mafia. I’m sure that Shuster was not disrespecting Chelsea, he was just using popular language to make an analogy.

Nevertheless, I personally I agree that Shuster’s comments were vulgar and seemed vitriolic towards a candidate’s family members. When the Clintons’ were in the White House, they were adamant about keeping Chelsea out of the harsh spotlight of the media., which was commendable.

Yet I feel used in several ways by the Hillary campaign’s reaction. There is definitely a two way standard in ad hominem outrage against family members depending upon your party stripe. The Bush daughters were savaged when they were away at college while W resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then there was the repeated outing of Vice President Cheney's daughter by John Edwards during the 2004 debates. In this cycle, Mitt Romney’s adult sons were savaged during this campaign cycling for serving their country in Romney’s campaign rather than serving in the military. The latter instance was a silly snit on the campaign trail, but it dealt with candidate’s adult scion who put themselves out front on the hustings. Chelsea is doing the same thing for her mother.

It would be cricket if minor children or family members who just wave in the background for photo ops were excluded from savaging by the press, politicians and the public. But that is not the case in America, where politics can be an ugly contact sport.

It is unusual, however, to have umpires enforcing personal foul penalties. It strikes me that Hillary’s campaign is trying to apply a continued velvet glove treatment for Chelsea. She already has that soft touch for another of her family assets. I trust that citizens who question “42 “ too harshly at a town hall meeting earn an early escort from the Secret Service.

This Shuster episode reinforces a narrative about Hillary as being is thin skinned towards unfavorable media coverage. Until the campaign got really competitive and she needed to rely on earned media due to a cash crunch, Hillary could avoid media outlets that would not guarantee softball questions or favorable coverage (namely Fox News). I have to wonder if Wolfson’s veiled threat was a way to have MSNBC back off on tough questions so that the fledgling news network could keep the next Democratic debate on February 26th . This verbal gaff could cost the network exposure that the mini-Peacock desperately needs, as well as could alienate access in a future Clinton administration.

Experience has also taught me that the Clintons’ are marvelous media manipulators. Was reaction to Shuster’s glib comment conflated to either grab earned media headlines or bolster a more human Hillary image? I am saddened at the prospect of needing to cynically calculate the genuineness of every story attached to the Clintons for the next eight and half years.

No comments: