The Players: David Zurawik, television critic for The Baltimore Sun who's not a fan of Chelsea Clinton journalism; Erik Wemple, media reporter and critic for The Washington Post who actually explains why he isn't a fan of Chelsea Clinton's journalism (yet).
The Opening Serve: When NBC News and Rock Center with Brian Williams announced that Chelsea Clinton found a job there, everyone eagerly waited to judge her first appearance. Would she be like Jenna Bush Hager? Was it nepotism? Does she really have journalistic chops? One of her most vocal critics was Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik. Zurawik appeared on Howard Kurtz's Realiable Sources on CNN and gave a scathing review of Clinton's broadcast journalism debut. "Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, in his shameless hype for this journalistically bankrupt decision, said it’s as if Chelsea has been preparing all her life for this thing," Zurawik said, winding up for his punchline. "Based on the first show we saw, if that’s true, it’s been a largely wasted life. And as mean as that might sound, I don’t take it back, really." Wemple was right there for the backlash to the backlash. "Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik made one thing clear during his appearance on Howard Kurtz’s Reliable Sources yesterday: He had rehearsed his line of punditry on Chelsea Clinton," wrote Wemple, adding that Zurawik sounded defensive. "He’s supposed to evaluate the new reporter’s work, not her life, even if the network suit opens the door. Though Zurawik considers his comment 'mean,' he’s going soft on himself. Childish and misanthropic would be more apt."
The Return Volley: Zurawik responded in a column of his own. It starts off as a paen to Howard Kurtz, before quickly turning into a Wemple takedown. "The Washington Post used to have the best media reporter in the country in Howard Kurtz," Zurawik writes. "Now it has Erik Wemple writing what the paper calls 'a reported opinion blog on news media.'" Zurawik voices more displeasure about Clinton for a bit, but then calls out Wemple for running with an "assumption" that Zurawik had rehearsed his answer. "Calling me, asking about his assumption and, oh my goodness, actually including some of my response, might have actually justified the "reported" part of his blog's description," writes Zurawik. "It would have gone a long way toward making him at least seem like a reporter instead of a water carrier for the Clintons."
Wemple took to Fishbowl DC to get the (for now) last word in. "It’s clear that Z, the ultimate reporter, perhaps didn’t check out this item and this item." Those two items lead to Wemple's critique of the Clinton hiring. "When someone like Z puts comments on the public record, they’re fair game for dissection by others," said Wemple. "In such cases, there’s no requirement to reach out ... Just as there’s no expectation that a book reviewer contact the book’s author or a music critic contact the band." Clarifying the "rehearsal" bit, Wemple adds:
I cannot speculate as to Z’s motives in bombing Chelsea Clinton. Perhaps he knows that being a flamethrower will earn him repeat invites to chat on cable tube. Perhaps he really feels that if what Capus said is true, Clinton has wasted her life. Who knows.
What They Say They're Fighting About: Chelsea Clinton's Rock Center debut. Not necessarily whether it was bad or good (the general consensus was that it wasn't her best showing) but rather how much biography are you allowed to include when critiquing. Zurawik thinks his slam on Clinton was fair and that her life--especially since the NBC News President had been touting how well she'd do-is fair game as well. Wemple, well, not so much.
What They're Really Fighting About: The difference between critics and reporters, as well as their own credibility. No one wants to be seen as a "water-carrier" for the Clintons or an obtuse, one-note critic. And understandably since both are critics, and are paid for their valuable opinions, they're standing by their point. If it were really about Chelsea Clinton, the two could've come to a middle ground and agreed that her debut wasn't particularly strong.
Who's Winning Now: Wemple. Not being pleased with Chelsea Clinton's Rock Center debut has been a popular opinion, one that even Wemple shares. But Zurawik needs to grow a thicker skin here. If he really believed that Clinton was as awful and that her (so far mediocre) broadcast career is the product "largely wasted life", then he, as a critic should be prepared to deal with the consequences. No time to question if you're being mean, or soft. Throwing out an excuse that Wemple is a "water carrier" for the Clintons reeks of desperation. Instead, he'd probably have been better served outlining what exactly about Clinton's performance rubbed him the wrong way. Maybe pointing out that she was a bit shy or too green in front of the camera or if her questions were too friendly--all of which were points Wemple was able to get across.