“Inside Edition” anchor Deborah Norville was an intern at Atlanta’s former CBS affiliate WAGA-TV when she got sent to cover then-President Jimmy Carter on his trip to the Georgia capital in 1979.
Norville, a college senior who made $75 a week, had a question ready in case she had a chance to talk to Carter.
But she didn’t imagine Carter would walk up to her alone among the reporters present and answer only her questions as she held the old microphone of former WAGA-TV reporter and future “PBS NewsHour” host Judy Woodruff.
“Sam Donaldson came running up to me and said, ‘What did the president say, little girl?’ ... I was just blown away,” Norville said in an interview with HuffPost.
“And the only thing I was thinking while I was interviewing the president was, ‘I’m going to get a job,’ because who’s not going to hire a college kid who’s got a live interview with the president of the United States.”
Norville, who described the moment as the “beginning” of her career, looked back on her time in TV news as her show “Inside Edition” marks its 35th season on the air.
The news program, which featured David Frost and former “Fox News” host Bill O’Reilly as anchors in its infant years, has primarily been a TV home for Norville.
Norville is the longest-serving anchor ― female or otherwise ― on national TV, and her program is the longest running of its kind.
The anchor said she owes her longevity in the industry in part to gratitude, which she described as the gas in her tank.
“It didn’t come naturally to me. I’ve worked at it, but working at that and becoming a more grateful person has made me a better journalist, has made me a better anchor, and has no doubt been important to the upward trajectory of my career,” Norville said.
Among her memorable moments on “Inside Edition” is her 1998 interview with former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who accused President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment when he was governor of the state. Norville was the first to interview Jones after news of the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.
“She had just recounted to me in the interview that she wasn’t getting meaningful assignments and she felt all of that was because she had turned ... the then-governor down. And so I said to her, ‘So you turn him down?’ ... And she blew up, she absolutely took such offense to that question,” Norville said.
Norville explained to Jones she meant no offense by the question and apologized for it.
“I was trying to figure out what was going on,” the journalist said. “Later, we found [out] her lawyers were negotiating the last little bits of this agreement and she [wound] up getting a financial settlement that day from the then-president. And so when we heard about that we literally ran over to [the] hotel, we said we got to do an update, so we need to talk a little bit more about this.”
Another moment that stands out from her time at “Inside Edition” is when she spoke with the wife of a 1995 Oklahoma City bombing victim, an interview that gave context to what grief and grace looks like in the wake of a tragedy, she said.
Other stories that stuck with her include her time inside North Carolina’s Davidson County jail and an interview with Kathy Giusti, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and given three years to live. After a stem cell transplant from her twin sister, Giusti survived and co-founded the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
In recent years, Norville said her program has been “comfort food” for viewers during a times of uncertainty, notably with its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“We don’t not tell you what’s going on when it’s a big story, but we try to do it in a way that brings some sense of, ‘You got this, we’ll get through,’” Norville said.
“And I think that’s really important right now, in our country and in our time.”
A recent episode of “Inside Edition,” for instance, covered patrons of a dance hall in New York City’s Chinatown returning “step by step” in the days following last week’s tragic shooting in Monterey Park, California.
Given the “role of a show like this,” she said, “if we continue to do it the right way, I think the longevity of this program is limitless.”
Norville said she believes much of her life has been a “happy accident” and referred to her departure from the “Today” show in 1991 as a time when she thought her career was up.
“Nobody would’ve thought I’d be back, and number one on that list was me,” Norville said.
“But I think the lesson in all of that is if you believe in yourself, if you do your homework, if you don’t expect anything from anybody and are willing to work for it yourself, you might be surprised with how things turn out.”