The anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is sparking fresh conspiracy theories — about Norah O’Donnell’s anchor spot at “CBS Evening News,” that is.
Last week, the third-place network flew “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil into Washington from New York to anchor a 9 a.m. special report on last January’s upheaval at the Capitol.
That set tongues wagging inside CBS, where some staffers said it looked like a possible tryout for O’Donnell’s job as CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani searches for ways to cut costs at the network.
As reported by The Post, the 47-year-old O’Donnell, who is rumored to pull a salary in the ballpark of $8 million, has lately faced speculation that her plum job may be in jeopardy as she renegotiates her contract to anchor the third-place news broadcast.
Indeed, one insider told On The Money that Khemlani has spoken about the coveted anchor chair to 40-year-old Dokoupil, who earns around $2 million for co-hosting “CBS Mornings” alongside Gayle King and Nate Burleson — and told him that he first needs to become “more seasoned.”
“This is an example of Neeraj trying to prop Dokoupil up and grow him into the role,” the source said.
A rep for CBS News declined to comment on the chatter but pointed to O’Donnell’s ratings, which have improved although they still lag second-place NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt” and first-place ABC “World News Tonight with David Muir.”
“‘Evening News’ is experiencing the tightest demo gap with NBC in 27 years,” the rep said.
But one CBS insider noted that the network can pay Dokoupil much less to be in third place. The person added that Dokoupil’s presence in DC seemed odd when O’Donnell, the network’s managing editor, is already there — not to mention a slew of other DC-based reporters who could have anchored the show.
“Why would they send Dokoupil?” the insider said. “Wasn’t this the whole reason to move Norah to DC?”
Hosting last week’s special report outside the US Capitol, Dokoupil looked fidgety, wearing an oversized parka and clasping his ungloved hands periodically as he lobbed questions at CBS News White House correspondent Nancy Cordes and Justice and Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues.
O’Donnell, who hosted the “Evening News” from the same spot later that night, appeared more in her element, confidently leading the live 6:30 p.m. broadcast.
But there’s still time, and insiders say that they expect to see Dokoupil take on more special reports in the coming months.
O’Donnell may also want to watch out for Major Garrett, who filled in for her during the week of Christmas. According to Nielsen, Garrett, who joined CBS News from Fox News in 2012, averaged 5.1 million total viewers and 891,000 viewers aged 25 to 54 for the week of Dec. 27.
That’s flat in total viewers and a 4.6% increase in adults aged 25 to 54 from what the newscast averaged when O’Donnell anchored two weeks earlier.
Following the holiday slump, O’Donnell’s ratings jumped in the week of Jan. 3, to 5.7 million total viewers and 1 million viewers aged 25 to 54.