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Journalist Cokie Roberts dies at 75

Ms. Roberts, in the WBUR studio in Boston.
Ms. Roberts, in the WBUR studio in Boston. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file 1998

NEW YORK — Cokie Roberts, the pioneering broadcast journalist known to millions for her work with ABC News and NPR, died Tuesday in Washington. She was 75.

ABC News said the cause was breast cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2002.

Ms. Roberts started her career at CBS, then began working for NPR in 1978, covering Capitol Hill. She joined ABC in 1988. Her three decades at the network included anchoring, with Sam Donaldson, the Sunday morning news program “This Week” from 1996 to 2002.

She was both reporter and commentator during her career and was widely respected both by her fellow journalists and by those she covered. Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, recalled on Twitter on Tuesday a 2001 talk in which she “encouraged all of us, Republicans and Democrats, to always seek consensus where we could.”


“I’ll never forget how moving she was,” he added.

Danielle Kurtzleben, an NPR reporter, praised Ms. Roberts as an example for younger generations of journalists.

“I’m proud as hell — proud as hell — to work at a news organization that has ‘Founding Mothers’ whom we all look up to,” she said on Twitter. “God bless Cokie Roberts.”

Michelle and Barack Obama, in a statement, called Ms. Roberts “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.”

And President Trump, speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to California from New Mexico, said of her: “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.”


If Ms. Roberts brought deep knowledge and keen insight to her work, that was in part because she was a child of politicians and first walked the halls of Congress as a girl. Her father was Hale Boggs, a longtime Democratic representative from Louisiana who in the early 1970s was House majority leader. After he died in a plane crash in 1972, his wife and Ms. Roberts’s mother, Lindy Boggs, was elected to fill his seat. She served until 1991 and later became ambassador to the Vatican.

Her background gave Ms. Roberts a deep respect for the institutions of government that she covered, and she did not hold herself or her journalism colleagues blameless for the problems of government.

“We are quick to criticize and slow to praise,” she said in a commencement address at Boston College in 1994.

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

In an oral history recorded for the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008, she expanded on the impact of her childhood experiences in shaping her admiration for America’s institutions.

“Because I spent time in the Capitol and particularly in the House of Representatives, I became deeply committed to the American system,” she said. “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,” she added, “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.”

Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs was born Dec. 27, 1943, in New Orleans. She said that her brother, Tommy, invented her nickname because he couldn’t say “Corinne.”

She, her brother, and her sister, Barbara, were immersed in political life, accompanying their father on campaign trips, attending ceremonial functions, and witnessing the discussions when other political leaders would come to dinner.

“In retrospect,’’ Ms. Roberts said, “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.”

Though her father had considerable influence on her, so did her mother, who was active in furthering her father’s career, along with other women she came to know including Lady Bird Johnson.

“I was very well aware of the influence of these women,” Ms. Roberts said, adding, “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.”


The author of eight books, Ms. Roberts explored in many of them the role of women in shaping the country, including in “We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters” (1998) and “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation” (2008).

She attended Catholic schools in New Orleans and Bethesda, Md., and graduated from Wellesley College in 1964 with a degree in political science. In 1966 she married Steven V. Roberts, who was a correspondent then for The New York Times. Journalism was a largely male world at the time, something driven home to her when she went job hunting.

“In 1966 I left an on-air anchor television job in Washington, D.C., to get married,” she told the Times in 1994. “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.”

She eventually became a radio correspondent for CBS, before joining NPR in 1978. With her fellow newswomen Nina Totenberg and Linda Wertheimer, she began to change the journalistic landscape.

“As a troika they have succeeded in revolutionizing political reporting,” the Times wrote in that 1994 article. “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 Ginsberg and Anita Hill; and in came tart-tongued Cokie with her savvy Congressional reporting. A new kind of female punditry was born.”


At NPR, one of her regular segments was “Ask Cokie,” in which she used her vast knowledge of Washington, politics, and history to answer listeners’ question on matters major, minor, and obscure. One asked whether nuclear weapons could be launched by executive order only, absent congressional authorization. One wanted to know where the phrase “lame duck session” came from.

In a recent installment pegged to the 100th anniversary of the House vote to approve the 19th Amendment, Steve Inskeep, the host, found himself interrupted by Ms. Roberts when he used the phrase “granting women the right to vote” to introduce the segment.

“No, no, no, no, no granting — no granting,” she said in her emphatic style. “We had the right to vote as American citizens. We didn’t have to be granted it by some bunch of guys.”