RIP Cokie Roberts: A ‘living legend’ and a friend

Cokie Roberts (Photo courtesy of National Public Radio)

America lost an experienced and invaluable TV news broadcaster Monday when Cokie Roberts died at age 75 of breast cancer.

At our house, we lost a friend.  Cokie and her husband, Steve Roberts, were news professionals and we often discussed the good and the bad of our profession late into the night.

I met Cokie in 1981 when she came to the office of Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois.  I was his press secretary and her request for an interview with National Public Radio came through me.

She was already well known in Washington — daughter of the late Speaker of the House Hale Boggs and a veteran TV news broadcaster with CBS News before joining National Public Radio.

She was working on a story about Palestinean efforts to be recognized by the American government, which Findley advocated as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Findley and I had traveled to the Mideast to see the squalor the Palestineans faced by efforts by its enemies who wanted them out of the land they said was theirs.

I backgrounded her on the issue before Findley went on camera and our professional relationship evolved into friendship during the 23 years that wife Amy and me spent in Washington.

“You don’t pull punches,” she told me over lunch after the PBS interview with Findley aired.  “You don’t gloss things over. I like that.”

Roberts understood the nuances of the issue better than many other journalists in the nation’s capital.  She was a serious professional with a sense of humor and a great laugh.

Former President Barack Obama called her “a constant over 40 years of a shifting media landscape and changing world.”  The Library Congress named her “a living legend” in 2008.  She won three Emmys and the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame inducted her into its ranks in 2000.

After PBS, she joined ABC News in 1988 as the political correspondent for World News Tonight, filled in a guest host on Nightline and became a regular panel member of David Brinkley’s Sunday “This Week” talk show.  When Brinkley left, she anchored the show with Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002 but left when doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer.

Reported The Washington Post:

“Men come up to men on the street and say, ‘We like your common sense,’ ” she once said, recalling her early “This Week” years. “But women say, ‘We love the way you don’t let them interrupt you, and that you hand it right back to them.’ I get the feeling that the country is full of women who’ve never gotten a word in edgewise when men talk about politics.”

For millions of viewers and listeners, however, Ms. Roberts was an indispensable guide to official Washington, able to explain knockout legislative fights and White House intrigue in snappy segments on David Letterman or Jay Leno’s late-night talk shows. She said she avoided stories in which there might be a conflict of interest, and saw little conflict in working for two media organizations at once, even if they were competitors.

“I think it’s a woman’s talent,” she told The Post in 1993. “Being able to do two things at once.”

She was a friend and a valuable member of a profession that is now needed more than ever in these turbulent times.

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