CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell is rankling journalists at CBS News with her tweets about former President Donald Trump’s passports, with some griping that she played it fast and loose according to CBS News’ reporting standards.

O’Donnell tweeted Monday that she had been told by a “DOJ official” that the FBI was “not in possession” of Trump’s three passports, which contradicted the former president’s statement that his travel documents were taken by FBI agents who searched his Florida home last week

But the anchor attributed the information to a single source — a big no-no at CBS News, which has a strict two-source protocol, angry CBS sources told The Post. They added that the tweets also made it sound like O’Donnell was calling a former president a “liar.”

“This is an embarrassment for CBS that the face of the your network can’t even make a second call to a Justice Department rep,” one livid source said. “It’s journalism 101.”

The FBI had returned the documents earlier in the afternoon, according to now-public correspondence between Trump’s camp and the DOJ.

Norah odonnel's tweet saying:" NEW: According to a DOJ official, the FBI is NOT in possession of former President Trump's passports. Trump had accused the FBI of stealing his three passports during the search of his Mar-a-Lago home."

In a written statement to The Post, a CBS rep defended O’Donnell’s series of tweets.

“Donald Trump publicly alleged that his passports were ‘stolen’ and in the hands of the FBI. As part of the normal reporting process, our reporters inquired with the DOJ about whether they had Donald Trump’s passports,” a CBS rep said in a statement to The Post.

“They replied that they did not,” the rep added. “Our reporting reflected that; it was true then and it is true now that the FBI was not in possession of his passports at the time. And as the tweet thread makes clear, any items that were not contained in the warrant would be returned.”

“It’s still bad journalism,” the source punched back. “She didn’t ask if the passports were ever in their possession. She didn’t say ‘no longer in possession.’”

CBS reps defended O’Donnell’s tweets about Donald Trump’s passports.
CBS via Getty Images

Semantics aside, the source said: “She’s desperate. It doesn’t look good. If you’re going to attack the POTUS and call him a liar you shouldn’t tweet the thing.”

CBS insiders explained that generally, any news reported by the news division must be confirmed by at least two people or else it is in violation of the network’s standards & practices rules.

A story can be sourced to a single company spokesperson, but in O’Donnell’s case, it is unclear if the DOJ official is indeed a press rep or an anonymous source.

“According to a DOJ official, the FBI is NOT in possession of former President Trump’s passports. Trump had accused the FBI of stealing his three passports during the search of his Mar-a-Lago home,” O’Donnell wrote.

She followed up, tweeting: “We are also learning tonight that if any items not contained in the warrant were retrieved during the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, they will be returned.”

On her show, which aired nearly an hour before she sent out the tweets, O’Donnell said:  “A source tells CBS News it is possible they [passports] were swept up in the search, and if so, they would be returned.”

donald trump
Former President Donald Trump claimed that the FBI had seized three passports during their raid of his Mar-a-Lago residence.
AFP via Getty Images

O’Donnell’s tweets went viral after Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich tweeted a screenshot of an email from a member of the Justice Department’s National Security Division that acknowledged the bureau removed the 45th president’s travel documents from Mar-a-Lago. 

“This is how Fake News works, folks. Biden admin actively feeds half truths & lies that the media willingly amplifies—advancing a partisan narrative to attack Trump. @NorahODonnell, did your “source” read you this email? Did you bother asking if they indeed seized the passports?,” Budowich tweeted.

The embattled Evening News anchor, who also holds the vaunted title of managing editor, has been sliding deeper into third place in the ratings behind “ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.”

In the second quarter of the year, which ended on June 20, O’Donnell’s show racked up 4.7 million total viewers, trailing Holt’s 6.5 million and Muir’s 7.9 million, according to Nielsen ratings data.

In the weeks since, O’Donnell has sunk even lower, ratcheting 4.4 million viewers in the most recent week. Muir led the pack with 7.5 million, and Holt, who was on vacation, nabbed 6.2 million viewers with Tom Llamas filling in for him.


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Tyler Cowan