PHILADELPHIA — Journalists covering the Republican and Democratic National Conventions over the past week-and-a-half seem to fall into two main categories; tired or extremely tired. The conventions are marked by daytime reporting, deadlines, panels, cocktails, late nights covering the speeches, more deadlines and after parties.
But Norah O’Donnell, cohost of “CBS This Morning,” seems to be the exception. The journalist, who calls herself a “political junkie,” has covered six presidential campaigns, which means she’s been covering the conventions since 2000.
“My background is [as] a political journalist, a campaign roadster journalist. I’ve spent many times on campaign planes and buses traveling this great country with candidates, both the Republican and Democratic nominees,” she told WWD on Wednesday after filming her two-hour morning show.
This is her nice way of saying the two-week slough is a sprint for her, not a marathon.
“I’ve learned to live with less sleep,” she said. “I can’t complain. I have someone who blow-dries my hair and puts on my makeup. I think any woman would give up sleep for a full hair and makeup team.”
Although she’s joking, O’Donnell does miss her days on the trail, in spite of some very unglamorous moments.
“I don’t get to see as much of the campaign [now] — the campaign advisers — as I used to see, and it’s fun out there,” she said. “But I have three young children, so I’m glad I get to be going home, usually, at the end of the night and not waking up in a Holiday Inn, in Davenport, Iowa, which was very nice. Kind of….I think I slept in my workout clothes.”
She continued: “The advantage of anchoring ‘CBS This Morning’ and anchoring our primetime coverage with Scott Pelley, Gayle [King] and Charlie [Rose], is, there’s greater access to the principles because of the real estate we live on, which has multimillion viewers.”
The journalist explained that while the TV business is challenged, morning programming is the “crown jewel,” as it sets the agenda for the day. That platform has enabled O’Donnell and her colleagues to nab big political interviews, she noted, before turning to the election and the DNC this week.
“These conventions are shows. They are shows and they know that,” she said. “You’ve got to put on a good show.”
Thus far, both conventions have played out like reality TV shows — replete with a reality TV star (Donald Trump) and arguably, the most famous female political figure in U.S. history in Hillary Clinton. Trump and Clinton are both known quantities and the public’s perception of them, in a sense, has already been set.
“I think it’s incredibly hard to change people’s minds,” O’Donnell said. “You can’t change who you are, but you can change people’s impression of you. I mean, there wouldn’t be a whole industry called public relations if it wasn’t true.”
O’Donnell let out a loud laugh as she turned to smile at her publicist.
“At the end of the day you can only sell a good product. It has got to have substance,” she said, after noting that campaigns that win are “well-organized,” perhaps a veiled hint at who she thinks will win the White House.
But there’s still much work to do for both sides. This week’s convention is, in a sense a “reprogramming” of the public’s worst perceptions of Clinton, O’Donnell explained, as she pulled out a large note card of her views on former President Bill Clinton’s speech Tuesday night about his wife.
On the paper, O’Donnell scrawled key themes from his speech, such as “falling in love,” “storytelling,” “Midwestern values,” “wife and mother,” “change maker” and “lip biting” — a signature gesture from the former president.
“This was his most important speech ever,” O’Donnell said of Clinton. “We didn’t know what he was going to say. Was he going to attack and mock Donald Trump? No. Was he going to speak up for his wife? We knew he’d do that. What he ended up doing was to try to rewrite the narrative of his wife, Hillary Clinton.”
As for the candidate, O’Donnell said Clinton will “have to project strength, trust and change” when she speaks on Thursday night.
“I actually think that after hearing Bill Clinton’s speech, her speech will be similar,” she said. “I think Hillary Clinton is going to use this occasion to try and help people to fall back in love with her and recognize that she has a lifelong biography of public service. Whether you agree with her politics, she has spent her life in public service.”