Opinion: Why Chelsea Clinton is worth $600,000 to NBC and you aren’t

Chelsea and Hillary Clinton at the 2014 Wildlife Conservation Society Gala at New York's Central Park Zoo on Thursday.
Chelsea and Hillary Clinton at the 2014 Wildlife Conservation Society Gala at New York’s Central Park Zoo on Thursday.
(Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images)

Just what should a job pay? Or, put another way, was Chelsea Clinton worth $600,000 a year for her work as a journalist at NBC?

Yes, folks, life and the 24/7 news cycle intersect in mysterious ways. Let me explain: Just this morning, as my wife and I were out on our morning constitutional (that means we were walking, young folks!), we happened upon the sound walls that are under construction in our little slice of paradise. Except, well, there wasn’t a lot of work going on. On one side of the freeway, a few workers were stirring. On the other, nada.

“You could probably find plenty of people at Home Depot parking lots who would be happy to come down and get that wall built,” opined my wife, her Orange County roots suddenly showing.


“Well, sure, but this is probably a government, union job,” I said, my labor-family background emerging. “On the other hand, you’re right; a trip to Home Depot for some guys and we could probably knock this job out in a week,” I quickly added, being wise in the ways of keeping the marital peace.

Which brings me back to the notion of what people are worth, and what they are paid, and one Chelsea Clinton. When news of her sizable NBC salary broke, there was an immediate outbreak of snark in the twittersphere, as reported by the Washington Post.

From Tom Gara: “Inspiring story of how one young woman rose from humble origins as Bill Clinton’s daughter to make $600,000 at MSNBC”; from Marlow Stern: “More than Jill Abramson if base salary. RT @THR: Report: NBC News Paid Chelsea Clinton $600,000 Annual Salary”; from Haroon Moghul: “For $600,000, @MSNBC could get Chelsea Clinton or, I don’t know, a lot of real journalists.” (There was also this, from NON à la CENSU¿E ! @bbr2net: “600.000$ pour la FILLE DE, c’est beaucoup, même quand on s’appelle Clinton!” -- but that’s in French and so doesn’t count, whatever it says.)

You get the idea. How dare NBC pay her $600,000!

Now, one odd thing about Americans is that we cling fervently to capitalism and yet question one of its central tenets: i.e. A person gets paid what someone thinks they are worth.

Ask Joe Average Citizen about salaries, and I guarantee you’ll be told that X makes too much, and Y would do the same job for less. For instance, $120,000 for a firefighter in L.A.? Outrageous. Or, $60,000 for a teacher? Why, plenty of people would be happy to teach for $40,000!

Then again, I once had a friend (a real estate attorney) tell me that he made $550 an hour, “and I’m cheap!” -- though I’m pretty sure he thinks all government employees are overpaid.

And let’s just forget trying to talk about pro athletes’ salaries.

But fast-food workers want a higher wage? That’s crazy, we say; it’s a low-skill so low-wage job. Then again, a CEO who makes $25 million? Why, he earns it; look at all it takes to run a company. (And when California lawmakers propose limiting the gap between CEO pay and their workers’ salaries, you’d think it is the second coming of Marx and Lenin.)

Now, in my field -- journalism -- things are bad these days. People are being laid off; people are actually working for free. So yes, it rankles some when Clinton gets $600,000 while “real” journalists are scraping by or can’t find work.

But really, what does that have to do with anything? I may not think you (whoever you are) are worth your salary either. On the other hand, I’m sure I’m underpaid. So what?

The bottom line is this: Someone at NBC decided that Chelsea Clinton was worth $600,000. Why? Heck, maybe because her dad was president and her mom quite possibly may be next president and it might come in handy to be nice to their kid?

That’s right. I can only guess.

But I’m not going to criticize NBC for paying her that much, nor her for taking the job. This is America, by God.

Instead, I’ll just paraphrase one of my favorite movie lines: “Forget it, Jake, it’s capitalism.”

Follow (the sorely underpaid) Paul Whitefield on Twitter @PaulWhitefield1