Cokie Roberts, Longtime Political Journalist, Dies at 75

September 17, 2019 by Dan McCue
Cokie Roberts, left, greets guests at a luncheon at the Westin Providence in 2001 to benefit the Women and Infants Hospital Breast Health Center. With her are Joan Countryman, right, head of school at Lincoln School, and her daughter Rachel. [Journal files]

WASHINGTON — Cokie Roberts, who grew up immersed in politics and spent several decades in Washington covering it, died Tuesday of complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

“Cokie’s career as a journalist at National Public Radio and ABC News took her to the heights of her profession, and her success as an author on history and family put her on the best seller list. But her values put family and relationships above all else,” her family said in a statement. “We will miss Cokie beyond measure, both for her contributions and for her love and kindness.”

Roberts was the daughter of Hale Boggs, a former House majority leader from Louisiana, and Lindy Boggs, who succeeded her husband in Congress after his death in a plane crash in Alaska in 1972.

Lindy Boggs was elected to a full term in 1974 with 82 percent of the vote and was reelected seven times thereafter until she vacated her office in January 1991.

In the meantime, the couple’s daughter began her ascent in journalism.

She started out in television producing and hosting a public affairs program on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., and transitioned into co-hosting “The Lawmakers,” a weekly public television program on Congress.

During the same period, in the mid-to-late 1970s, she worked for CBS News Radio and eventually, NPR, becoming a congressional correspondent and contributor to “Morning Edition.”

From 1984-88 Roberts was a contributor to PBS’ “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” where her coverage of the Iran-Contra Affair won her the Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting in 1988.

That was the same year she joined ABC as a panelist on “This Week With David Brinkley.”

With Sam Donaldson she anchored the network’s weekly interview series “This Week” from 1996-2002.

She was also chief congressional analyst for ABC News, reporting on politics and public policy for “World News Tonight” and other ABC News programs, while also frequently subbing for Ted Koppel on “Nightline.”

In her more than forty years in broadcasting, she has won countless awards, including three Emmys. She has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame and was cited by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the fifty greatest women in the history of broadcasting.

ABC News President James Goldston said in a statement Tuesday morning that Roberts was “a true pioneer for women in journalism.”

“Cokie was well-regarded for her insightful analysis of politics and policy in Washington, DC., countless newsmaking interviews, and, notably, her unwavering support for the generations of young women – and men – who would follow her in her footsteps,” Goldston said.

Roberts, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, kept working nearly to the end. She appeared on “This Week” in August, drawing enough concern about her evident weight loss that she released a statement saying “I am doing fine” and was looking forward to covering next year’s election.

She co-wrote a political column for many years with her husband of 53 years, Steven, who survives her. The couple had two children and six grandchildren.

Roberts’s books about women in American history: “Founding Mothers,” published in 2004 and “Ladies of Liberty” in 2008, and “Capital Dames” in 2015, about women and Washington in the Civil War, were New York Times bestsellers, along with her children’s book “Founding Mothers,” illustrated by Caldecott award winner Diane Goode. 

She also wrote two with her husband, one about interfaith families and “From This Day Forward,” an account of their marriage.

Roberts received more than thirty honorary degrees over the course of her career, and served on the boards of several non-profit institutions. In 2008 the Library of Congress named her a “Living Legend,” one of the very few Americans to have received that honor. 

Her work with the Library, particularly her frequent appearances at the National Book Festival, made her one of the Library’s most ardent supporters.

“On behalf of the Library of Congress staff, we want to send our condolences to the family and friends of Cokie Roberts,” said Librarian Carla Hayden. “Cokie had a passion for storytelling and this nation and it reflected on the stories she told and the books she wrote. As a historian and a journalist, she was a frequent patron of the Library who relished using the collection and sharing it with her audience. She will be deeply missed.”

At the time of her death, Roberts was set to be honored by the National Archives Foundation with its 2019 recipient of its Records of Achievement Award for “her commitment to chronicling the American story as an award-winning journalist, historian, political commentator and best-selling author.”

In a statement, National Archives Foundation Board of Directors Chair and President Governor James Blanchar said, “Cokie did more to bridge the gap of understanding between media, business, politics and government than anyone in this town.” 

“At the National Archives Foundation, we enjoyed a special relationship with Cokie, who joined our board 17 years ago,” Blanchar continued. “As our Vice Chair, she gave generously of her time and expertise to the cause of understanding the American experience. As a pioneering woman in journalism, she was committed to addressing the challenges women face in our world. We planned to honor Cokie Roberts with our 2019 Records of Achievement Award on the evening of November 13, 2019. Now, we will celebrate her life and the wonderful person she was to all who knew her.” 

Patrick Madden, executive director of the foundation, added, “We will greatly miss Cokie’s leadership and personal touch on the Foundation’s Board. Her support of the National Archives was boundless. Her commitment to the study of women’s history and civics was matchless. Cokie’s brilliance and warmth will continue to guide the Foundation’s work for years to come.”

On Tuesday former President Barack Obama offered condolences, writing in a statement, “Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty 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. She will be missed – and we send our condolences to her family.”

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