Cokie Roberts, Pioneering Journalist, Dead at 75

We're unlikely to see anyone like her again.

Cokie Roberts, a legendary broadcaster for more than four decades, has died from breast cancer.

NPR, where she had her breakthrough, reports:

Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who joined an upstart NPR in 1978 and left an indelible imprint on the growing network with her coverage of Washington politics before later going to ABC News, has died. She was 75.

Roberts died Tuesday due to complications from breast cancer, according to a family statement.

A bestselling author and Emmy Award winner, Roberts was one of NPR’s most recognizable voices and is considered one of a handful of pioneering female journalists — along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg — who helped shape the public broadcaster’s sound and culture at a time when few women held prominent roles in journalism.

Having so many female voices at a national broadcaster was nothing short of revolutionary in the 1970s, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson recalled in an interview with The Daily Princetonian earlier this year.

“[W]e called them the Founding Mothers of NPR, or sometimes we called them the Fallopian Club,” she said.

Liasson said it wasn’t so much that NPR had a mission for gender equality, but that the network’s pay, which was well below the commercial networks of the day, resulted in “a lot of really great women who were in prominent positions there and who helped other women.”

By the time Roberts joined ABC News in 1988 — while retaining a part-time role as a political commentator at NPR that she maintained until her death — women were increasingly commonplace at broadcast networks and newspapers.

Those of us of a certain age know Roberts from her time at ABC and, especially, her coming in to our living rooms every Sunday morning as a panelist the “This Week” broadcast, first headlined by the legendary David Brinkley and later co-hosted by Roberts and Sam Donaldson.

In her later years, she would be regularly savaged from the left as part of the “High Broder” or “both sides” phenomenon that helped enable the rise of the Tea Party and eventually Donald Trump. But I always thought that criticism unfair. Both her father and mother had been Members of Congress and she brought a nuanced understanding of politics that treated politicians as actual people. And she came up in an era where journalists were supposed to above the fray.

She’s being eulogized on Twitter and elsewhere for her pioneering career, kindly mentorship of young women in the field, and general good grace. We’re unlikely to see anything like her again. The current media environment is too polarized and fragmented for anyone to have such a huge audience, let alone be so widely respected and even beloved.

FILED UNDER: Media, Obituaries
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    Attended a lecture she gave years ago (I think the theme was the Clinton impeachment). A very classy person, insightful and with lots of good humor. Rest in peace.

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    A pioneer in the industry, a mentor to young journalists, and an icon in political journalism.
    The political world is worse off today.
    RIP.

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  3. GHW says:

    I grew up listening to her. Why do I feel so sad (tears forming as I write this) to hear of her passing? Her experience, insight, and clarity of communication was uncommon then and rare now.

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  4. mattbernius says:

    As others have said, there was a kindness and grace in her delivery that will be sadly and sorely missed.

    What an amazing career.

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  5. Jen says:

    She embodied grace and class, and she will be very much missed.

    The book she co-authored with her husband on marriage was a wonderful book with lots of details about their working lives and balancing careers, which made a huge impression on me. I loved listening to her on NPR.

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  6. SC_Birdflyte says:

    This hits close to home. Although I never met her, I did meet Steve Roberts one time. I told him, “I may be the only person here who’s met both your in-laws.” RIP Cokie.

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  7. dmichael says:

    Sigh. Once again we are to stifle honest evaluations of a public figure who just died. James may feel that criticisms of Ms. Roberts “unfair” without of course, noting any of the ridiculous things she said in public. My recent favorite is her criticism of President Obama who vacationed in Hawaii, where he was born and to my knowledge, is a state with her comment that it was too “exotic.” Of course she was a constant critic of the Clintons which probably is the reason for James giving her a pass. A more accurate and honest comment is found here: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2019/09/cokie.
    Let the down voting begin.

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  9. Tyrell says:

    I remember watching “This Week” almost every Sunday. It was Cokie Roberts, Donaldson, Will, and the incomparable David Brinkley. They would debate and disagree but never were disrespectful. They were professionals in every way. We did not realize what we had. On Sundays I often think about that show.

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