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Blurred lines at MSNBC helped create reporter's crack about Chelsea Clinton

Tim Cuprisin
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MCT)

The suspension of NBC correspondent David Shuster last week for an unfortunate and offensive crack about Chelsea Clinton points out a bigger problem on MSNBC:

Why are reporters hosting personality-driven shows?

Shuster, an experienced correspondent, was filling in for Tucker Carlson when he went on about the former first daughter's role in her mother's campaign.

Said Shuster: "Doesn't it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"

Hillary Clinton `s campaign went ballistic, and Shuster was ordered to apologize and was suspended. There's a back story here, including a couple of anti-Clinton comments that aired on MSNBC, that led to the strong punishment for Shuster.

It was a poorly chosen word to describe Chelsea Clinton, especially as it comes from a guy who has to cover politicians. Still, the real question remains: Why was Shuster filling in for Carlson in the first place?

It's not MSNBC's only example of reporters as personalities. NBC's White House correspondent, David Gregory, hosted mornings on MSNBC after the mess that got Don Imus dropped. Gregory, who had been a regular Imus guest, is a quick-witted guy who also does some fill-in work on NBC's "Today."

Then he has to go back to the White House press room and ask tough questions and try to suppress his opinionated self.

It's a situation fraught with professional danger.

This criticism doesn't apply to the TV news channel equivalent of entertainment show hosts, personalities like Carlson, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough (although Scarborough's sidekick, Mika Brzezinski, is another of those reporter/personality hybrids).

The personality-show hosts are all about their own opinions and how they entertainingly they express them, not unlike radio talkers.

In fact, Olbermann has the opposite problem on MSNBC, when he's assigned to host news coverage, like Tuesday night's MSNBC reporting on the Potomac primaries. He was alongside Chris Matthews, an opinionated guy himself but clearly a savvy political analyst. Olbermann is an acid-tongued commentator, not an expert on presidential primaries, and shouldn't be anchoring straight news coverage.

MSNBC has scored some ratings gains by turning up the volume on its personalities. But those gains may also leave reporters like Shuster in the dust because they turned up their personalities just a bit too much.

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