In The Know

O’Donnell describes ‘new era’ in moving ‘CBS Evening News’ to Washington

Courtesy of CBS/Michele Crowe

Norah O’Donnell says she’s both living and making history, covering some of the biggest news events in a generation while launching the “CBS Evening News” from its new home base in Washington.

“I think it’s a new era because we made history by moving the show to Washington,” O’Donnell, who assumed the “Evening News” anchor chair in July, told ITK in a Tuesday interview.

“Never before has an evening news broadcast been based solely out of our nation’s capital. We’re making a statement.”

“Evening News” officially debuted from its brand-new studio in downtown D.C. last week. The move marks both a personal and professional shift for O’Donnell, who lived in New York with her husband and three kids while co-hosting “CBS This Morning.”

Her husband, Washington chef and restaurateur Geoff Tracy, would usually schlep from the District on weekends. 

“It’s been wonderful. My husband says I’ll gain eight hours a week [with him by] not traveling, so that gives us more time to relax,” O’Donnell said.

While O’Donnell says she doubts the average TV viewer likely notices whether the program is airing out of the Empire State or the nation’s capital, the switch gives a boost to the show’s news-gathering.

“What it allows me to do is to spend more time with sources, to go up to Capitol Hill, to pop in for a meeting at an intelligence agency in the morning, to do an off-the-record meeting on Capitol Hill or at the White House. For me, in many ways too, this is a return to my roots, which is reporting,” says CBS’s former chief White House correspondent.

Asked about covering politics in an era in which President Trump has decried the “fake news media” as “the enemy of the people,” O’Donnell replies, “Make no mistake about it: Journalism is under attack and the truth is under attack.”

O’Donnell says she takes objectivity in her reporting “very seriously.”

“Whether it’s the president of the United States, President Trump, or whether it’s Joe Biden on ‘60 Minutes,’ the interview usually ends with them saying, ‘Those were really tough questions, but you were fair,’ ” says O’Donnell. “I don’t ever want to take anybody out of context or be engaged in gotcha journalism. This is, at the end of the day, an effort to foster understanding and hold people accountable.”

While “CBS Evening News” got a ratings jolt in its D.C. debut, it has long lingered in third place behind offerings on NBC and ABC. Rather than ratings, O’Donnell, 45, says she focuses each day on “exemplary journalism” and storytelling, which takes up “all” of her time.

“The rest is for the business side of CBS to worry about,” she says.

Katie Couric made history as the first woman solo anchor of a network evening newscast when she was named “CBS Evening News” anchor in 2006, and Diane Sawyer took over as anchorwoman of “ABC World News” in 2009. When ITK inquired whether it’s a positive sign that her gender hasn’t been the focus of countless headlines about her new role, O’Donnell says, “Look, I’m only the third woman in history to solo anchor an evening news broadcast — that’s not enough women.”

Long before she knew she’d be landing her anchoring gig or be covering impeachment hearings, the Emmy Award winner started keeping a journal at the advice of a friend.

“Someone said to me at the beginning of 2019, ‘This is going to be the most important year of your life.’ ” Rather than a diary, O’Donnell describes it as more of a recording of what happens every day. In the future, O’Donnell says she might turn the entries into a memoir, saying she plans on settling into her current job for the long haul. “Someday after doing the ‘Evening News’ for 10 years will I write a book? Certainly.”

For now, O’Donnell says she’s just trying to make the transition from moving her job and her life to Washington.

“I’m still sort of discombobulated,” she admits with a laugh. “I haven’t totally unpacked my bags.”

Tags CBS Evening News Donald Trump Joe Biden Norah O'Donnell

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