If Norah O'Donnell becomes the next big thing in morning television, history will point to a frosty January day in Iowa when she put a direct question to Republican presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich. "You said of Mitt Romney, 'Somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president,'" she said. "I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?" Responded Gingrich: "Yes."
It was a viral video that had CBS News executives thinking O'Donnell could be more than their chief White House correspondent. "She's had a lot of moments like that," CBS News president David Rhodes says of his new coanchor of CBS This Morning. O'Donnell will take over Erica Hill's seat next to Charlie Rose and Gayle King at the end of August.
O'Donnell, 38, spent eight years poking and probing as a Washington correspondent for NBC News before joining CBS last year. "Tim Russert was my first boss," she says. "He would always say to me, 'What do you know?' The first time he said that to me, I thought, 'I'd better have an answer.'"
Industry insiders believe O'Donnell's sharp-edged style — she describes it as "firm but fair" — is a better match for coanchor Rose, who was not always quick to react on camera to Hill. O'Donnell's immersion in the election coverage is also a plus. "That's very helpful right now," says Rhodes.
O'Donnell doesn't foresee a big adjustment to doing the morning shift, beyond moving to New York. "Our kids are already up at 6am," says the mother of three. "I've been waking up at 4:30am to do live shots when I'm on the road with the campaigns." Viewers may also see more cooking on the program, as O'Donnell is married to popular D.C. restaurateur Geoff Tracy.
In her Washingtonian way, she points out: "We're obviously pro-food."