Norah O’Donnell’s attitude under fire on CBS’ Evening News

CBS Evening News host Norah O’Donnell sits third in the ratings, but sources at the network say she has a top-notch attitude — even as she faces being sidelined by her pointed, pea-counting boss will.

CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani — who has cut costs to make the network viable — has set his eyes on O’Donnell, who is reportedly making between $6 million and $8 million a year, and his contract expires this spring. Sources told the Post.

“The next big decision from him is the overhaul of ‘Evening News,'” said a CBS insider, explaining that the network can find a cheaper alternative to stay bottom in the ratings.

“It’s not a moneymaker,” said a second source, adding that O’Donnell’s “toxic behavior” weighs on the show.

Speculation that their days are numbered has increased since the Russo-Ukrainian War began. O’Donnell is the only evening news anchor not in Eastern Europe, which has taken a toll on ratings.

Norah O'Donnell
O’Donnell’s antics on the CBS Evening News have angered the network’s staff, who are pushing for the anchor to be replaced.
CBS Photo Archive

For the week of Feb. 28, total CBS viewership fell to less than 5.1 million, behind NBC’s 7.4 million and ABC’s 8.8 million, Nielsen said. Before the war, O’Donnell reached about 5.6 to 5.3 million viewers per night.

“David Muir, Lester Holt and Anderson Cooper are all in Ukraine. Where is Norah? We’re in the middle of a war and she’s reporting from Washington, DC,” a source said. “Either she didn’t want to go or the leadership didn’t want her to go. It’s bad either way.”

Meanwhile, CBS Mornings host Tony Dokoupil, who is rumored to be a possible successor to O’Donnell, was reporting from Poland and appeared on her show nightly. Sources said O’Donnell will finally be sent to Poland this weekend and will report from there on Monday, but some insiders say “it’s too late”.

CBS news correspondent Tony Dokoupil reports from Poland
CBS Mornings host Tony Dokoupil has been rumored to be a possible replacement for O’Donnell.
CBS News

The 48-year-old host’s “The Devil Wears Prada” routine includes a full “dress rehearsal” of “Evening News” half an hour before the show airs — an often tense ritual that has seen O’Donnell blow the minds of the dressing room stylists about her hair and makeup, sources said.

“There was an incident at the studio last year where she was ranting about her bronzer being fake,” said an insider, noting that her hair and makeup team took the brunt of her tantrums and were known to do it she burst into tears.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic and people are dying.”

Lester Holt reports from Ukraine
NBC Nightly News host Lester Holt was one of many journalists covering from Ukraine. O’Donnell’s absence from Eastern Europe up to this point has raised eyebrows at the network.

“She’s a news actress,” said another insider, noting that dress rehearsals for news shows are “very unusual” — especially for a host who’s been on the job for three years. A third added that the show’s producers are using the quirky routine to train the “robot” O’Donnell and “make her look more human” by criticizing how she delivers the messages and reads from the teleprompter.

Some of O’Donnell’s DC co-workers won’t miss her while she’s gone. Insiders said O’Donnell has a clothing allowance of $65,000 a year and she’s very careful about which designers she wears.

“It’s a clothes package, every news anchor has one. That number is incorrect,” said O’Donnell’s publicist Cindi Berger, who declined to give an exact number.

Recently, O’Donnell posted a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a black, tie-belted Oscar de la Renta wool jacket, which retails at Nordstrom for $2,700, at a time when CBS News is undergoing major cuts, sources said.

A photo from O’Donnell’s Instagram of the presenter wearing an expensive Oscar de la Renta top.

One of O’Donnell’s daily requirements is that her Gucci slides be waiting outside her dressing room door for her to put on as soon as she leaves the set.

“I vehemently deny these outrageous and sexist claims!” Berger responded via email to questions about her client’s wardrobe and the treatment of staff.

The dress rehearsals have also angered the network’s journalists, who allege that O’Donnell is using her to exert outsized control over shows, scrapping last-minute segments while she’s tending to her looks.

Anderson Cooper reports for CNN from Ukraine.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently interrupted his paternity leave to travel to Ukraine to cover the war.
David Muir
ABC’s David Muir, who has been in Ukraine for weeks, is the highest-rated evening newscaster on television.
Lorenzo Bevilaqua

A news anchor usually runs through a few segments or scripts, but O’Donnell requires all producers, reporters, and editors to run through the entire program. Not only does this mean the segments have to be finished sooner and therefore aren’t as polished, but it also gives O’Donnell the opportunity to rip the segments apart.

“The rehearsals are an excuse to blow up packages 15 minutes before the show,” quipped a source. “She changes the words into segments. Everyone has a stroke.”

Now insiders say O’Donnell is facing heat from Khemlani, who was hired last year to overhaul the organization. As previously reported by The Post, Khemlani’s gruff, demanding leadership style at CBS ruffled feathers, leading to the departure of a number of respected executives and journalists, including London bureau chief Andy Clarke, who left the company over a dispute over costs Extraction of Afghan journalists and fixers who worked for CBS.

The executive and O’Donnell began last year when The Post first reported that CBS was quietly searching for O’Donnell’s replacement ahead of her contract expiring this spring.

At the time, Khemlani denied a possible move or change of anchor, telling The Post: “There are no plans to move the Evening News out of Washington. Norah’s presence in Washington has boosted CBS Evening News’ coverage on all fronts — politics, breaking news, to big interviews, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen just last week. Her coverage of military and domestic abuse has won awards and changed politics in Washington. And the program not only makes headlines, but also gains audience share.”

Neeraj Chemlani
CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani has been looking for O’Donnell’s replacement and was turned down by former MSNBC host Brian Williams.

Tensions escalated further in January when CNN reported that Khemlani approached former MSNBC host Brian Williams at least twice about the gig. O’Donnell’s camp was “shaken” and “very upset” by the reports, a source said.

“They feel Neeraj is belittling Norah and the credibility of the network,” the source said.

Some people inside CBS believe reports of Khemlani looking for a new host could be a clever tactic to get O’Donnell to take a massive pay cut. But the upshot is that CBS looks “dumb” for re-signing the anchor after trying to replace her, a source noted.

Norah O'Donnell at the Time 100 Gala
O’Donnell’s on-air designer wardrobe has ruffled feathers at CBS News, which is being reorganized by Khemlani.
Kristina Bumprey

When asked publicly about O’Donnell’s job security, Khemlani said said deadline in January that CBS “has no current plans to change” what it does, but sources questioned the manager’s words.

“I don’t know if Neeraj can make the final decision but he will bring it [ratings] Data to George Cheeks and Bob Bakish,” the source said, referring to the CEOs of CBS and its parent company Paramount Global. “Norah’s contract expires in May. It’s time.”

CBS declined to comment. Norah O’Donnell’s attitude under fire on CBS’ Evening News


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