Norah O'Donnell: News Should Be About Information, Not Affirmation

Norah O'Donnell
(Image credit: Media Institute)

CBS Evening News Anchor Norah O'Donnell told a virtual gala audience Wednesday that in an age of the 24-hour news cycle, where people can't even agree on facts, journalists have to focus on being a steady hand. "It is vital that journalists provide information, not affirmation," she said.

O'Donnell provided that advice in her acceptance speech for the Media Institute's Freedom of Speech award, which was given out at the virtual gala Wednesday night (Oct. 20). O'Donnell weighed in from her Evening News set in Washington.

Information is power, she said, something instilled in her by her parents. She said that truth was at the heart of the award she was receiving. The award cited O'Donnell for her "journalistic accomplishments in furtherance of free speech and a free press. It was presented by Gayle King, co-host of CBS Mornings.

Quoting from a predecessor to her Evening News anchor perch, the iconic Walter Cronkite, O'Donnell said: "Journalism is what we need to make democracy work."

It is a motto she lives by and shares with others, but one whose spirit predated Cronkite by a couple of hundred years. She pointed out that the Founding Fathers thought press freedom so important that they made it the very first amendment, "not the 11th."

O'Donnell said they clearly recognized the importance of the role of the press in holding the powerful accountable and that she agreed with one of those "Fathers," Thomas Jefferson. If she had to choose between a government and no free press and a free press and no government, she would choose the latter.

She said the country requires a knowledgable electorate and that it is a journalist's job to get answers for them through tough but fair questions in interviews that are not about the interviewer, but about "the person, the audience and the issue at hand."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.