Norah O'Donnell Knows How She Does It

CBS’s new White House chief discusses the 24-7 demands of news and motherhood.

by Annie Grocer
Norah O Donnell image
Balance? “The truth is, I am spending more time at work.”
Photograph: Michael Tran/Getty Images

Norah O’Donnell hit the broadcast-news trifecta when she jumped to CBS after a dozen years with NBC/MSNBC. At 37, she’s now the network’s chief White House correspondent, principal substitute host of Face the Nation and a contributor to 60 Minutes.

The first of those job titles has gotten her into the elite club of women who probe politics and policies at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a group that has included Andrea Mitchell, Judy Woodruff, Rita Braver and Lesley Stahl. But technology and the 24/7 news cycle mean that O’Donnell roams a pricklier Rose Garden. “When I started off, we had a notepad and maybe a Nokia phone,” she says. “Now we have smartphones and Twitter and Facebook. You send a query, and you get a one-sentence answer.”

Among the politicians themselves, she says, such speedy communication has helped fuel partisanship: “It’s easy for an official to make a derogatory comment, blast it on Twitter, and the other party feels they have to respond.”

O’Donnell got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown, but that’s not the only reason she has worked in D.C. ever since. She met her husband, Geoff Tracy, in college, and they married in 2001; since then he’s become the owner of five popular city eateries. Now the parents of three children (twins Henry and Grace, four, and daughter Riley, three), they combined forces last year and collaborated on Baby Love, a cookbook featuring nutritious meals for kids.

O’Donnell avoids the words balance and juggling when describing job and family. “Balance suggests the scales of justice—equal time at work and at home,” she says. “The truth is, I am spending more time at work. If you see it as a balance, you feel guilty.” On the other hand, she adds, juggling “suggests frenzy.”

Her own solution is to “be in the moment,” with lots of backup. A nanny she calls her “chief of staff” keeps the house running, and Tracy pops home every afternoon for an hour or two. But when O’Donnell had a meltdown planning Riley’s birthday party—“Face painting and the moon bounce, I can’t do this!”—it was Tracy who saved that moment. “Relax, don’t worry. It’s not your skill set,” he said soothingly. “You’re a great reporter.”

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First Published October 25, 2011

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