The Power of Listening
Co-Host, “CBS This Morning” Contributor, “60 Minutes,” CBS News
By Julia Corbett
Norah O’Donnell is fearless in her pursuitfor the truth. It’s what makes her one of the most trusted and admired journalists in the world. Her career has taken her from the Pentagon on 9/11 to traveling with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to conducting exclusive interviews with the most powerful and influential global figures.
Her platform is far-reaching as co-host of “CBS This Morning,” contributor to “60 Minutes,” and former Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, after over a decade at NBC. She has received numerous awards for her groundbreaking reports.
Growing up in a military family, O’Donnell took an early interest in world events and developed a deep understanding of service and sacrifice. “My mother was the foundation of the values that led me to be a journalist,” she said. The most foundational of them all: to listen.
WHAT DREW YOU TO JOURNALISM?
From an early age I was deeply curious about the world. My father was a doctor in the Army and drafted during the Vietnam War. What happened in Washington and in the world affected my family. During the first Gulf War, he was one of the first deployed and gone for over a year, stationed in Saudi Arabia. Because of that we always had the newspapers in our house. I also watched the news every night. Barbara Walters was one of the few role models that we had, a woman on television interviewing the most powerful people in the world.
WHO MADE THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
My mother! She said one of the most important things you can do is to listen to somebody and hear what they’re saying. That’s one of the most critical elements of being a journalist. Journalism is not only about fact finding, but furthering understanding. At the heart is listening to different voices to find the truth. That’s the kind of trusted journalist I want to be; no matter what political party someone is from, they know they have a trusted journalist who will listen to them.
‘Journalism is not only about fact finding, but furthering understanding.”
WHAT WAS THE MOST PIVOTAL MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER?
I would say covering the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks. I was at NBC News, reporting on what was happening at the Pentagon and in Washington. I actually did a standup where I walked across the [Arlington] Memorial Bridge. There were no cars on it. The city was completely shut down. There were only full-on Army tanks rolling by.
I then traveled the world with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, including the first visit to Afghanistan by any high-ranking official. It set off a period that has defined most of my journalistic career — all the wars we’ve been involved with and the toll it has taken on our armed services and veterans.
The second pivotal moment was the decision to join CBS News. That was the beginning of a journey I had no idea would take me to the morning show and the stage I’m on now.
WAS THERE A TIME WHEN YOU HAD TO FIGHT FOR YOUR WORTH?
We fight for our worth at every stage of our careers. You not only have to prove your worth every day, you have to promote your work and fight for equal pay or perhaps more than equal pay. When I was asked to join “CBS This Morning,” I was very clear that I was not going to leave Washington and move my family for a job in New York unless I was paid equally as my co-host. I held very firm on that. Sometimes they don’t appreciate your worth until you insist on and lay out what it is.
Last year, you delivered news about men at CBS accused of sexual harassment. HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH THAT?
There’s no doubt this was the most challenging but also the most productive year of my career. I thought long and hard on what to say that would stand the test of time and send a message about [this] pivotal point in history. At the same time, I decided to put my head down and do the best work of my career. At the time the Charlie Rose story came out, I had just been at the Air Force Academy, reporting on women who had been assaulted, harassed and retaliated against. That story gave me a real appreciation for what victims go through. That’s what led me to what I said on the air: Women cannot achieve equality until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility.
Julia Corbett is an editor at Accenture Interactive.
Norah O’Donnell’s 2019 Matrix Award will be presented by Gayle King.
Emmy Award-winning journalist Norah O’Donnell is the co-host of “CBS This Morning” and a contributor to “60 Minutes.” O’Donnell joined “CBS This Morning” in July 2012. Prior to that, she served as CBS News Chief White House Correspondent. As a journalist for more than two decades, she has covered six presidential elections and traveled around the globe to interview some of the world’s most important leaders, including six of the last seven U.S. presidents.
Since joining “CBS This Morning,” O’Donnell has conducted numerous interviews with newsmakers including President Donald Trump, President Barack Obama, Vice President Mike Pence, and Speaker Paul Ryan. She has sat down with some of the world’s most influential leaders including South Korean President Moon Jae-in for his first interview in office, His Royal Highness Prince Harry of Wales, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, and the Dalai Lama. In March, O’Donnell spent a week reporting in Saudi Arabia where she interviewed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The conversation was his first and only American television interview. The last time a Saudi leader gave an interview to a U.S. network was in 2005. She won The Merriman Smith Memorial Award for excellence in presidential news coverage for her exclusive “60 Minutes” interview with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden on his decision not to run for president in 2016. O’Donnell also landed exclusive interviews with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise for “60 Minutes” and an interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the height of the league’s domestic violence scandal. She covered the historic election of Pope Francis in Vatican City as well as his first Apostolic Voyage to the United States. She also reported from the scenes of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Houston; the country’s worst mass shooting in Las Vegas; the terror attack in San Bernardino, and the Boston Marathon bombing. She was also part of the CBS News team that received an Alfred I. DuPont Award for the network’s coverage of the 2012 Newtown massacre.
O’Donnell has won two News Emmys for her reporting – most recently she won in 2018 in the Outstanding Investigative Report in a Newscast category for her report on sexual assaults at the United States Air Force Academy. She also won in 2009 as part of NBC News’ 2008 Election Night coverage team for the category Outstanding Live Coverage of a Breaking News Story – Long Form.
O’Donnell earned a Gracie Award and was named best national news on-air talent for the year 2018 and 2016. Her reporting for CBS This Morning on sexual assault at the Air Force Academy won an honorable mention in the Edgar A. Poe Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association. She received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast of 2017 and was named “Broadcaster of the Year” by the New York State Broadcasters Association in 2014.
Prior to joining CBS News, O’Donnell worked for more than a decade at NBC News, where she covered the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House. Her assignments took her around the globe: she reported from every continent except Antarctica with the either the President of the United States or the Secretary of Defense.
O’Donnell has covered a number of breaking news stories throughout her career. She reported from the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, and received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Breaking News Coverage for a “Dateline NBC” story titled, “D.C. In Crisis.” In the months following the attacks, she traveled extensively with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, including on his first trip to Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks.
O’Donnell was NBC News White House Correspondent during the 2004 presidential elections, covering the campaigns of then-President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. Prior to covering the White House, O’Donnell was NBC News Congressional Correspondent, reporting on the lead-up to the Iraq War. She also covered the 2000 presidential campaign. In all, O’Donnell has covered six presidential campaigns and reported from every political convention since then.
She began her career as a print reporter for Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, for which she covered the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and traveled the country covering congressional elections.
A firm believer in empowering women, O’Donnell sits on the Board of Directors of the International Women’s Media Foundation.
Born into a military family, O’Donnell grew up in San Antonio, Texas; Landstuhl, Germany; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy as well as a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. She is married to Geoff Tracy, a restaurateur in Washington, D.C. They have three children.