Last week my inner political junkie kicked in, and I decided to watch some late-night C-SPAN.  What they offered me was watching a young lady with the same unusual surname as a well-known ABC financial reporter holding forth on the administration’s regulatory policies.  I had just finished reading a magazine column by a man with the same unusual surname as an even better-known CNN anchorman.  My apologies to all concerned if I jumped to an incorrect conclusion, but it occurred to me that these might be relatives, perhaps even children, of their entrenched media celebrity sires.  That’s called nepotism, and it’s still nepotism even if you’re the finest political analyst of your generation.

Of course, nepotism isn’t anything new in American life; politics, Hollywood, and, really, the entire entertainment field have floated on it for generations.  But after considerable thought on the matter, I can’t help but think that it’s a new development in journalism.  Magazine and newspaper ownership, yes, but not so much the writers.  In the 175 years or so since American journalism evolved into something like its present-day manifestation, the only big names I could come up with were Watergate-era Timesman Scotty Reston, and his son James Reston Jr.  Even then, Reston Jr. made his name more as an author of books than a newspaper opinion columnist.  Television has Mike and Chris Wallace, but I can’t think of anybody else. 

Actually, on a lower level of fame, though, I remember one spectacular failure of hiring a newspaper columnist on the basis of familial writing ability.  The state paper where I grew up boasted a Pulitzer Prize columnist, and after his death they replaced him with a daughter, or granddaughter.  Whether her columns were very good I can’t remember, but I do recall very clearly her spectacular downfall, which came when she reacted to one of the microscandals of the day in which a nominee for something-or-other was revealed to have been fond of weed in the days of his youth (did anybody even ask that of any candidates this time around?) by saying that anybody her age who hadn’t smoked weed was straight from Dweebsville and that was what really disqualified you for public office.   In the torrent of letters to the editor which ensued nobody said they objected to the implication that she had herself indulged, or, if they did, their letter didn’t get printed, but this upstart insulting their sophistication was more than they could bear, and, for whatever reason, after a few months she was read no more.

If television’s relatively immune to nepotism, it has never been less than inevitable that it would, often, hire for looks, most notoriously for its women.  It’s possible, barely, to think of a few anchors, almost always men, who are less than attractive, but they aren’t the norm; Fox News anchors always look as though they just stepped off the runway.  There’s plenty to complain about in an age when too many people are getting their news off the internet, but at least they don’t seem to be hiring bloggers for their looks.  Yet.