Cokie Roberts, Legendary Journalist, Dies at 75


Cokie Roberts was a member of a powerful political family, experiences she drew on as a leading Washington journalist for NPR and ABC News, died on Sept. 17, 2019. She was 75 years old.

Roberts was a tough, knowledgeable voice to the political arena at a time when very few women had national profiles in the news business.

According to ABC News’ website, she died of breast cancer.

Roberts was known for her reporting and her commentaries. She was able to move easily from radio to television and print, explaining the impact of work events and the intricacies of debates over policies. Additionally, Roberts wrote books like, “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation” and “Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868.” It was in these books that Roberts highlighted the role of women in political history.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House tweeted: “Cokie Roberts was a trailblazer who transformed the role of women in the newsroom & our history books as she told the stories of the unsung women who built our nation.”

Roberts joined NPR in the late ‘70s and ABC News in 1988. She created a career that served as an example to later generations of women in journalism.

Danielle Kurtzleben, a reporter for NPR Tweeted, “I’m proud as hell – proud as hell – to work at a news organization that has ‘Founding Mothers’ whom we all look up to. God bless Cokie Roberts.”

In a statement from former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, they stated that Roberts was “a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men’ a constant over 40 years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way.”

President Donald Trump spoke to reporters on Air Force One, on his way to California from New Mexico. He said: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional. Never treated me well, but I certainly respect her as a professional.”

Roberts brought insight to her work. It was due in part because she was a child of politicians, one who first walked the halls of Congress as a girl. Hale Boggs was her father. He was a longtime Democratic representative from Louisiana. In the early ‘70s, he was the House majority leader. In 1972, he died in a plane crash and his wife Lindy Boggs was elected to fill his seat. Lindy served in the House until 1991 and later became the ambassador to the Vatican.

Robert’s upbringing and background gave her a deep seeded respect for government institutions. Additionally, she did not hold herself or her journalist colleagues blameless for the problems within the government. In 1994, she stated in a commencement address at Boston College that “we are quick to criticize and slow to praise.”

She told the crowd, “But, it’s also your fault.” She said constituents needed to allow members of Congress to make the tough votes and “live to fight another day.”

In 2007 and 2008, Roberts recorded an oral history for the House of Representatives and expanded on the impact her childhood experiences had in shaping her views about America.

Because I spent time in the Capitol and particularly in the House of Representatives, I became deeply committed to the American system. And as close up and as personally as I saw it and saw all of the flaws, I understood all of the glories of it.

“Here we are, so different from each other, with no common history or religion or ethnicity or even language these days, and what brings us together is the Constitution and the institutions that it created. And the first among those is Congress. The very word means coming together. And the fact that messily and humorously and all of that, it happens – it doesn’t happen all the time, and it doesn’t always happen well, but it happens – is a miracle.

Cokie Roberts was born Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, on Dec. 27, 1943, in New Orleans. Her brother Tommy created her nickname, Cokie, because he was unable to say, Corinne.

Roberts, her brother, and her sister were immersed in political life. The went with their father on campaign trips, attended ceremonial functions, and listened to discussions at the dinner table that ensued when political leaders visited their home.

Roberts’ parents did not have them leave the room when grown-ups talked. “In retrospect, I’ve sometimes wondered, ‘What did those people think to have all these children around all the time?’ But we were around, and it was great for us.”

Her brother had considerable influence over Roberts, but so did her mother who was active in furthering her father’s career, along with other strong women she came to know like Lady Bird Johnson.

She said: “I was very aware of the influence of these women. I very much grew up with a sense, from them, that women could do anything, and that they could sort of do a whole lot of things at the same time.”

This was the theme in her 1998 book, “We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters.”

Over the years, Roberts’ mother told her that it was nothing new for women to be soldiers, diplomats, politicians, revolutionaries, explorers, founders of industry, and leaders in business. In the past, women may not have held titles, but they did the jobs that fit those descriptions.

Roberts attended Catholic schools in New Orleans and Bethesda, Maryland. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1964 with a degree in political science. In 1966, she married Steven V. Roberts. He was a correspondent for The New York Times at that time.

Journalism was a career filled with men, something that was driven home to Roberts as she searched for a job.

In 1994, Roberts told The Times, “In 1966 I left an on-air anchor television job in Washington, D.C., to get married. My husband was at The New York Times. For eight months I job-hunted at various New York magazines and television stations, and wherever I went I was asked how many words I could type.”

Eventually, she became a radio correspondent for CBS before she joined NPR in 1977 or 1978. Sources are unclear. Roberts joined her fellow newswomen Nina Totenberg and Linda Wertheimer to change the journalistic landscape.

In a 1994 article, The New York Times wrote: “As a troika, they have succeeded in revolutionizing political reporting. Twenty years ago Washington journalism was pretty much a male game, like football and foreign policy. But along came demure Linda, delicately crashing onto the presidential campaign press bus; then entered bulldozer, Nina, with major scoops on Douglas Ginsburg and Anita Hill; and in came tart-tongued Coke with her savvy Congressional reporting. A new kind of female punditry was born.”

By Jeanette Smith


The New York Times: Cokie Roberts Dies; Veteran Broadcast Journalist Was 75
ABC News: Legendary journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts dies at 75
Twitter: Cokie Roberts

Image Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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