Politics & Policy

Showbiz First Kidz

Working in TV is a rite of passage for many children of presidents.

Malia Obama may only be 15 years old, but she’s already following a path familiar to other White House children: She’s working in media.

President Obama’s elder daughter worked as a production assistant for CBS’s upcoming science-fiction series Extant while her father was fundraising elsewhere in California, several publications reported this week. The show stars Halle Berry and is produced by Steven Spielberg.

“She helped with computer shop alignments and the director also let her slate a take,” an insider from the show told TheWrap. The teenager’s work was apparently in compliance with Jackie Coogan child-protection laws.

“My first time,” she said on the set. “This is a big deal.”

Malia’s interest in television is one she shares with other recent presidential offspring. First Kids are usually considered off-limits to media. (Malia and her sister don’t even have Wikipedia entries.) But that hasn’t stopped White House offspring from getting into TV themselves.

For at least one of Malia’s predecessors, the television business proved to be a lucrative gig.

Last week, Politico revealed Chelsea Clinton raked in $600,000 annually as a special correspondent for NBC from November 2011 to December 2013. The daughter of past president Bill Clinton and potential next president Hillary Clinton did virtually no work for that money. A Nexis search by Business Insider brought up 14 reports by Clinton over that time, which totaled about 58 total on-air minutes. Her subjects included a voice-over interview with the GEICO Gecko and a story on therapy dogs. When all was said and done during her time at NBC, her compelling investigations earned her approximately $27,000 per minute.

The First Daughter advantage is bipartisan affair at the Peacock Network. Since 2009, Jenna Bush Hager has served as a special correspondent for Today, where she contributes stories on education, as well as sitting down with the occasional commander-in-chief. Over the years, she has interviewed Presidents Obama, Clinton, and her father George W. Bush; she interviewed her grandfather, George H. W. Bush, on his 90th birthday last week.

But presidents’ children aren’t confined to morning television and broadcast news. If Malia prefers primetime drama, she wouldn’t be the first First Daughter to go that direction. Patti Davis, née Reagan, looked to emulate her father’s success on screen with guest spots on timeless series like The Love Boat, CHiPs, and Fantasy Island in the 1970s and 1980s.

Malia’s behind-the-camera work may be a departure from the star turns of Clinton, Bush Hager, and Davis. Nevertheless, the TV industry is closely tied up with politics, placing high premiums on effective presentation, winning over audiences, and name recognition. Ronald Reagan, Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shirley Temple, Fred Grandy, George Murphy, and Sonny Bono or just a few of the screen personalities who have moved on to politics.

Actress Camryn Manheim, who was on set with Malia, noted that the First Daughter had been “hoisted into the spotlight” and credited her “poise” on set.

Time will tell whether her daylong experience in California is just the start of Malia’s life in filmmaking or as an on-camera personality. But one thing is almost certain: She won’t be the last First Kid to contemplate, and embark on, a career in showbiz.

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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