Why hasn’t Chelsea Clinton resigned from IAC/InterActiveCorp?

By Laurie Bennett

November 22, 2011 at 6:30am

Newsroom conflict-of-interest rules prevent most journalists from sitting on corporate boards.

Not so, apparently, when the journalist is Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

NBC announced earlier this month that Clinton would be a full-time correspondent contributing stories to the “Making a Difference” segment on “NBC Nightly News.”

Chelsea Clinton
Chelsea Clinton

Two months earlier, IAC/InterActiveCorp elected her to its board of directors.

Some would say that if being the daughter of the former president and current secretary of state isn’t considered a conflict, why should a corporate board membership present a problem?

But in the decades since women entered the job market full force, we’ve come to distinguish between family connections and professional ones. (That doesn’t mean carte blanche - George Will and Clarence Thomas still have some explaining to do.)

One also might argue that as a reporter covering feel-good stories about community volunteers, Clinton is unlikely to come up against conflicts with her director duties.

But such distinctions aren’t drawn for the typical wretch. And IAC/Interactive, whose enterprises include, Newsweek & The Daily Beast, and a swarm of smaller web sites, wields far more influence than the outside involvements generally frowned upon.

Unlike many of her critics, we don’t begrudge Clinton the NBC gig. She knows media in ways most members of the press never will. Aside from the viewers she will certainly attract to the network, she likely will leverage her connections, life experience and smarts to make a contribution.

But we do worry about new holes in ethical fences.

Media outlets have long made exceptions for columnists, military analysts and other consultants whose potential conflicts are not always revealed.

Full-time correspondents, however, have not been granted get-out-of-the-newsroom cards.

We combed our database for other examples of national-level reporters who are directors of national-level corporations and found no other instances. (If you know of any, we’d be eager to hear about them.)

In the new media world - as owners show decreasing loyalty to their reporters, and vice versa; as brand names are applied not only to publishers and programs, but to the reporters themselves - we’ve just taken another step away from old media ethics.

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