Moving “CBS Evening News” headquarters from New York to Washington, D.C., has placed anchor Norah O’Donnell on the front lines of the impeachment trial, a position she has taken full advantage of — grilling some of the biggest names on both sides.
But it also makes her and the team more vulnerable to accusations that the mainstream media lives in a Beltway bubble. O’Donnell, who previously worked in the nation’s capital as a White House correspondent, insists that her program is doing a better job than ever of covering the real America, including the Twin Cities market, where her show is first in total viewers among the major network newscasts. (It remains stuck in third nationwide.)
O’Donnell, who is nearly seven months into her role as lead anchor, spoke by phone Monday from her makeup chair, her hair in rollers and her brain firmly focused on the latest Senate developments.
Q: Now that you’re in Washington, is there a fear that your coverage will become too centered on politics and overlook other issues that are facing the rest of the country?
A: I don’t know if that’s true. CBS has always been most powerful in the heartland, both on the entertainment and news side. We close the broadcast every day with a story on how people are changing communities through kindness. There was the story we did recently on the Ohio businessman who gave an entire high school a chance to go to college for free. Those are stories that go beyond the headlines.
Q: But doesn’t just living and working in a town obsessed with politics make it harder to stay in touch with the rest of us?
A: Look, I grew up in San Antonio. Most of my girlfriends are there. I text with them almost every single day. I just got done texting one of my girlfriends who lives in Iowa. They keep me up on what’s important. I’m from a military family. I’m not of Washington. It’s not that people are disinterested in the impeachment trial, but they are more interested in pocketbook issues. The rhetoric of Washington doesn’t always reflect the problems of real America. We just did a story from Iowa on how people struggle when three-quarters of their income goes to child care. Those people don’t have time to watch a lot of the cable news debates when they’re trying to put food on the table and get to the doctor in the morning.
Q: Yes, but plenty of people do find time to watch cable news. How do you convince them to watch the network news?
A: I think there are plenty of sources out there if you are seeking affirmation. But if you’re seeking information in an unbiased manner, we are trying to be the smartest curators. Cable news and CBS’ streaming service are great for breaking news, but we are trying to go in-depth and provide clarity in a nonpartisan way.
Q: Every time I’m in D.C., all people want to talk about is politics. Isn’t it hard to escape?
A: I guess that’s true if you only associate with people at work. I was at a Super Bowl party last night with other parents and there wasn’t any discussion of politics at all. We were talking about sports and how our preteens are already talking about which colleges to attend.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 •
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin