TV is always looking for that miraculous combination: girl next door appeal, steel trap mind, and the spark of something more in their news correspondent’s eyes. Lucky for CBS, Nancy Cordes fits the bill.
I met with Nancy last night at her studio in Washington, D.C. She has timeless grace, an easy way of making you feel as if you’ve been friends forever, and a body that is wonderfully photogenic even when she isn’t posing. She evokes instant trust.
Nancy spoke about growing up in Hawaii and how she wanted to go to college as far from home as possible. She settled on the University of Pennsylvania and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude. After getting her MPA from Princeton, she started her career as a freelance reporter and was tapped for a full time job one year out of school. From there, she worked 3 AM shifts at local stations, on the affiliate desk, and finally for the last 7 years as Congressional Correspondent for CBS.
Walking into CBS in D.C. is interesting. It’s a smallish, not very modern building on a busy street, jam-packed with wires, and cameras, and monitors, everywhere you look. The halls are lined with photos of some of television’s greats. In the control room is a newspaper sheet with Walter Cronkite’s photo on it. A young Connie Chung is on another wall. On the main desk sits a little rubber capitol with a small flag rigged to flutter above it. Patriotic symbols are everywhere.
The studio space is tinier than you’d think. A chair with a teleprompter sits in one corner of the newsroom ready for live commentary. The only real studio is for Face the Nation, one of CBS’s Sunday stalwart programs.
Beneath Nancy Cordes’ charming exterior, her Ivy League education and nascent intellect bubble to the surface. Her life-experience as a mom does, too. She speaks about the members of Congress with an in-depth knowledge that is astounding. When asked about the bipartisan deadlock, she said, “It is frustrating when you think it can’t get worse, and then every year, it does get worse. Both parties need to spend time in my son’s preschool for a few days and relearn the concepts of cooperation and sharing.”
And her opinion on term limits? “Well, it’s an idea, but you also need people with experience to run the government. Would you want someone who’d only been elected three years ago to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee, making decisions about whether or not we go to war?”
When pushed to disclose whether there was partisanship in newcasting, she said, “I don’t even know the party affiliation of most of my coworkers. You wouldn’t last long in this business if people did know. They’d assume you were biased, so most reporters don’t mention it.”
She defends CBS’s integrity with great credibility. Nancy Cordes believes in the job she’s doing and you see that in every word she speaks. She’s one of the rare few that can digest all the governmental garbage flung at her each day and turn it into soundbites worth listening to.
“It’s been a really frustrating year,” she says. “It’s hard to report on a Congress that isn’t doing much.” Then a breath later. “Who else can have a job where you can question Senators as they come out of the lunchroom, or from a meeting with the President? And if you really need an answer to a question, you can wait all day outside a Senator’s office. They have to come out of there sometime.” She grins mischievously.
Over all, she’s charming. She poses for photos, offers her personal email address, then showed off the Face the Nation set and the new scenery backdrop that will air this Sunday.
In a glass enclosed booth with wall-to-wall monitors, telephones and other equipment, she excitedly introduced Phil who runs the control room. Next are Joey, a video editor, who explains how video is cut and inserted into shows, and Rebecca Kaplan, a political correspondent for CBSnews.com, whom she invites to talk about the inglorious joy of reporting on the campaign trail. She waits patiently for Josh, who mans the night desk, to finish a phone call, so he can discuss organizing staff, watching for breaking news, and making sure footage is properly archived.
Each time, her clear regard for the importance of each person’s role stands out. Their smiles and laughter mix with hers. In a gloomy, windowless TV station, where the fluorescence of monitors is the primary lighting source, their sunny dispositions really make a difference.
It seems CBS has a lovefest going on in the newsroom.
Now, that’s news I like.