Veteran reporter Norah O'Donnell debuted as host of the CBS Evening News on Monday night, and wasted no time differentiating her show from other mainstream media when she, clearly and directly, called U.S. President Donald Trump's recent attacks on four freshman congresswomen "racist."
Taking over a historic position once occupied by Walter Cronkite, who covered the Vietnam War and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, O'Donnell is only the third woman to have a nightly news broadcast to herself after Katie Couric's turn at CBS and Diane Sawyer's at ABC. Her main challenge is perhaps even bigger than Cronkite's: to reckon with a presidency that, to so many, doesn't make much sense.
The Columbia Journalism Review called it a "strong start." The top story on O'Donnell's first day was about how four progressive congresswomen of colour — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar — have responded to Trump's multiple racist tirades, including telling them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came." (All are U.S. citizens.)
While many major news organizations have stuck to euphemisms like "racially charged" (ABC News) or "inflammatory" (NBC News), and CBS itself has avoided the term in past coverage, O'Donnell called the tweets "racist" in the first few seconds of her broadcast. The chyron clearly said, "Congresswomen respond to racist tweets." And, O'Donnell called out senior Republican lawmakers for being silent on the issue. "Republican leadership in Congress, well — they've been noticeably silent," she said.
O'Donnell's second challenge will be making the evening news relevant again as young people are increasingly gravitating away from tuning in — away from television, in general — and toward getting all their news on social media. While 23 million viewers still watch the top three evening newscasts, CBS' median viewer age is 58.7 years. The company has, however, responded to this by providing on-demand and digital services with CBSN that let you watch the news on your phone, tablet, and more.
Some top media players have already congratulated O'Donnell on her new role. According to The Hollywood Reporter, O’Donnell said Oprah Winfrey called her to offer congratulations, saying the position is her "supreme destiny."
"There are so few women who get to speak about the world to the world," Winfrey reportedly said. "And you are now one of those people."