Norah O'Donnell Is Killing What's Left of the CBS Evening News
The Brits call them "newsreaders." Their job is to sit behind a desk on a TV set and read the news -- ostensibly written by actual journalists, but also by the propagandists at the BBC -- off the teleprompter in a professional-sounding manner while looking reassuringly into the camera.
In America we call them "anchors." Their job is to be the star of the show, to determine what goes on the air, to provide the desired slant to the news, and then at some point during the evening, to read the news off the teleprompter in a professional-sounding manner while looking reassuringly into the camera.
In Britain, being a newsreader is a nice job. In America, being an anchor is to sit atop the pinnacle of the fabulously wealthy and self-important infotainment industry.
While British TV viewers might not get news of any higher quality or with any less bias than what American viewers get, they certainly get it with a lot less ego and drama.
Case in point: The constantly flailing CBS Evening News is now on its sixth anchor since Dan Rather was driven out in 2005, after holding the anchor job for 24 years. Walter Cronkite before him held it for 19. But after Rather, CBS News has chewed through anchors faster than Spinal Tap went through drummers.
Norah O'Donnell took the job back in July to great media fanfare, but CBS's $7 million dollar woman is "getting hammered in the ratings worse than her predecessors did."
We learned back in April that O'Donnell was gunning hard for the anchor chair then held by the hapless Jeff Glor. Glor -- paid a "mere" $2 mil a year -- had taken over from Scott Pelley in 2017, and went immediately about the difficult business of losing 1.5 million viewers from what was already the least-viewed evening network news broadcast. O'Donnell's performance since shoving Glor aside has been even worse. The NY Post reports that in just the last week, "O’Donnell’s total viewers plunged 17 percent to 5.1 million." If that weren't bad enough, viewership among the 25-to-54 demo advertisers go for dropped by "a heart-stopping 25 percent." When O'Donnell debuted last summer to surprisingly weak numbers, I said that you couldn't pin all the blame on her, given CBS's longterm struggle to maintain viewership. But after seeing the new Nielsen figures, it's clear that CBS's seven-million-dollar gamble on O'Donnell was a very, very bad decision.
The question they need to be asking themselves at CBS HQ is, "Will O'Donnell somehow land us in fourth place when there are only three major network newscasts?"
This must come as a massive disappointment to CBS, given the huge media tongue bath applied to O'Donnell's July debut.
As I reported to you back then:
Hollywood Reporter made O'Donnell appear all daring, saying she was "taking on the mission" for the "brand-defining" news program. Marisa Guthrie's report even managed to name-drop Walter Cronkite in the very first sentence.
But that's nothing compared to the Los Angeles Times's effort. They stuck old Walt right in the headline: "Norah O’Donnell tries to restore the house that Cronkite built at CBS News." The Times was so pleased with this story, apparently, that the usual "pay us money if you want to read this content" nag/blocker didn't pop up, and I was able to read the story free of charge. They also name-dropped the late, great Tim Russert in the lede, hoping to remind viewers that it's only been eleven years since the Tiffany Network's news division had an anchor who didn't suck.
Going back even further, Variety squeezed Edward R. Murrow's sacred name into their O'Donnell headline: "Norah O’Donnell Invokes Edward R. Murrow to Launch New Era at ‘CBS Evening News’."
It's a new era! But also just like Murrow! Please watch!
The lead-up all felt a bit desperate.
But not nearly so desperate as conditions must be at CBS right now, given that they're blowing high-seven-figures a year on an anchor who can't even hold on to Glor's miserable numbers.
It couldn't happen to a nicer network, of course. CBS News earned what now looks like a permanent stain on its reputation, after Dan Rather was forced out for pushing "fake but accurate" smears against President George W. Bush in 2004. When a news division screws up as badly as they did, and then had their star anchor forced out by a bunch of "bloggers in their pajamas," you'd think they'd try to fix the situation by doubling down on integrity.
Instead they went with O'Donnell, who as PJ's own Patrick Poole reported, is so viciously biased that she went on Twitter two years ago to push the fake news that "so-called 'right wing' terrorism is a greater threat than Islamic terrorism." If you'll recall, the people who came up with that narrative started collecting death figures from September 12, 2001 -- leaving out 3,000 murders on American soil on 9/11.
The fact is, Americans have a huge appetite for news, and we consume more of it than ever. But we enjoy less and less of the empty calories from the fake news dished out by the major networks. And apparently there is none less appetizing than Norah O'Donnell and the CBS Evening News.