Chelsea Clinton gave a perfectly honed and utterly unsatisfying explanation on Monday for why she made her debut as a special correspondent on NBC's magazine show, "Rock Center with Brian Williams." (Watch: Chelsea Clinton debuts as TV reporter)
"For most of my life I did deliberately lead a private life and inadvertently led a public life," Ms. Clinton told Brian Williams after the show aired her profile of Annette Dove, a woman who has devoted herself - and her lifetime savings - to run an after-school program in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Sitting across from Mr. Williams with her back straight, her hands folded in her lap, Ms. Clinton said that she was proud of both her parents and was encouraged by her grandmother, who died last November, to do more with her fame. After years of avoiding journalists, Ms. Clinton said she is ready to become one of them, in order, as she put it, to lead a "purposefully public life."
It's a noble sentiment, but it doesn't make a lot of sense - because of her last name, there are plenty of ways to do good works and publicize worthy causes besides becoming a television newscaster. Given her past reticence, Ms. Clinton's decision to work at NBC News is almost as puzzling as Caroline Kennedy's short-lived plan in 2009 to run for the New York Senate seat left vacant by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Both choices seem less like a new vocation than a violation of a long-standing non-aggression pact with the media.
The two women are daughters of former presidents who worked hard to lay low and be taken seriously, and accordingly they were granted a zone of privacy that less determined and less disciplined children of celebrities rarely receive. It was confounding when they suddenly broke their side of the bargain, as if shrugging their shoulders and telling the world, "Never mind."
The main difference between the two women is that politicians aren't served by the press, they consort with it, and Ms. Kennedy was not accustomed to the crude, often humiliating deals candidates and elected officials have to make with the media. Ms. Clinton has more practice. She chose to join the fourth estate, not quite as a reporter, but as a citizen-journalist with some of the immunity from prying that comes with a network press badge.
Ms. Kennedy dropped her Senate bid after a few chaotic weeks. Ms. Clinton mapped out a more considered and well-oiled campaign, with timely public appearances and selective press interviews.
Ms. Clinton's first report was only slightly different from other "Making a Difference" features on NBC News. She chose a subject located in her father's home state of Arkansas, and the profile she did was high-minded, serviceable and not at all bad - a warmly drawn portrait of an appealing older woman who courageously helps needy, neglected children.
Ms. Clinton is a little self-conscious on camera and doesn't have the kind of richly-modulated anchor voice most television reporters acquire, but that actually gave her piece a more natural feel - like a video blog on Current TV.
It's easy to see why NBC signed her up; the network has already hired Jenna Bush Hager, another former first daughter, who is a "Today" show correspondent; and Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, who is an MSNBC contributor. Ms. Clinton's parents are more prominent and she has a higher - and more respected - public profile.
Television gives Ms. Clinton more than a platform for her charitable causes. It's a fast track to all kinds of careers, including politics. The best, and perhaps, only way to trump inherited fame is to double-down on it. Television doesn't often lend its stars dignity, but it is the great equalizer: almost anyone on it long enough can become as well known as the parents who helped get them the job. To younger viewers at least, Tori Spelling has become perhaps even more famous than her legendary father, producer Aaron Spelling, merely by putting a camera on her private life for her reality series. The Kardashian daughters have done the same.
And in some cases, celebrity begets political standing. Donald Trump may be something of a joke on his reality show "The Apprentice," but his wealth, fame and brio have made him a player - and possibly even a potential third party candidate - in the 2012 election.
For all her experience at a hedge fund and in non-profit work, Ms. Clinton is basically known as the daughter of a former president and the current secretary of state.
Her tryout at NBC gives her a chance to become Chelsea Clinton.