In 1978, a veteran journalist known for her coverage of Washington politics joined what was then known as National Public Radio. At NPR, she joined such female voices as Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer, and Susan Stamberg in helping shape NPR’s coverage of the White House, Capitol Hill and America’s political news.
In 1988, she took a role at ABC News, making her face a familiar one to viewers.
Now, journalists and everyday media consumers alike are paying tribute to Cokie Roberts, who has died of complications from breast cancer at the age of 75.
Roberts until recently was a regular part-time contributor to NPR’s signature drive-time news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Born in New Orleans as Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, she was given the nickname Cokie by her brother, Thomas, who had trouble pronouncing Corinne.
Roberts’ father was Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., a former Democratic majority leader of the House who served in Congress for more than three decades before he disappeared on a campaign flight in Alaska in 1972. Her mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, took her husband’s seat and served for 17 years. Lindy Boggs also served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Cokie Roberts began her career in television — at NBC O&O WRC-4 in Washington. There, she was the host of Meeting of Minds, a public affairs program.
In the early 1970s, she served as a freelance correspondent for CBS, working from Athens, Greece. Roberts moved there with husband Steven V. Roberts, who worked for The New York Times.
In 1977, Cokie and her husband returned to Washington. With NPR still little-known outside of most markets, she took a job as its Congressional correspondent. At the same time, she contributed to PBS’s signature evening newscast, The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.
With the 1988 move to ABC, Roberts formally departed NPR and became a political correspondent for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. She was also the lead fill-in host on Nightline when Ted Koppel was unavailable.
For most ABC viewers, she is remembered for her decade as co-host of This Week alongside Sam Donaldson, from 1992-2002.
Roberts won numerous awards during her long career in journalism, including three Emmys and the Edward R. Murrow award. She was recognized by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting.
She was also the author of six books, mostly recently Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868, which examined the role of powerful women in the Civil War era.
Among the many paying tribute to Roberts are former President and Mrs. George W. Bush. “We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us,” they said in a statement. “She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heartbroken. We send our sincerest sympathies.”
America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) President/CEO Patrick Butler was also among the first to offer comments on Roberts’ passing, calling her “a pioneer in public broadcasting and a paragon of objective, insightful journalism delivered with a civil tongue and from a deep love for her country.”
He added, “Cokie was one of the ‘founding mothers’ of NPR, helping it grow and thrive during her nearly five decades of service and leadership to one of America’s most trusted media institutions. She was also an accomplished author of an array of books that have illuminated people and events that deserve the attention and appreciation of all Americans. We were honored to have Cokie as a featured speaker at our 2011 Public Media Summit, and we will be forever grateful for the high standard of citizenship she set for all of us.”
On a personal level, Roberts and Butler served for many years together on the board of the National Archives Foundation and in other civic enterprises. “Our families came to America on the same ship in 1631,” Butler added. “I am bereft at the loss of my friend.”
“Cokie Roberts will be dearly missed,” said ABC News President James Goldston. “Cokie’s kindness, generosity, sharp intellect and thoughtful take on the big issues of the day made ABC a better place and all of us better journalists.”
Roberts was “a true pioneer for women in journalism,” Goldston said, “well-regarded for her insightful analysis of politics and policy in Washington, D.C., countless newsmaking interviews, and, notably, her unwavering support for generations of young women — and men — who would follow in her footsteps.”
She is survived by her husband; her children, Lee and Rebecca; and her six grandchildren.
— With reports from Bobby Allyn and Scott Neuman at NPR in Washington. Coverage courtesy KCRW.