At age 75, veteran journalist Cokie Roberts has passed away. The field of journalism – and her national audience at large – owes a debt of gratitude to Roberts for her voice and her leadership.
Roberts joined NPR in 1978, when it was just an upstart network. Along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg, Roberts is considered one of the “founding mothers” of NPR, helping shape its culture and voice from the beginning. Roberts’ role at NPR, as well as her consistent, accurate, and diligent reporting showed women that they could succeed in journalism and how, in an era when broadcasting was dominated by men.
“Don’t get all involved in the politics of your institution, or competition in your inside institution over the other people. Just do your work and get it on the air, and then people will see that you’re good,” Roberts, offering advice to younger females pursuing political journalism, said in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation.
Roberts was well-known for her dynamic political reporting. She was a polite but fierce interviewer and analyst, and she was willing to push the boundaries when necessary. Her family is full of politicians and Roberts was considered a Washington insider with friends on both sides of the aisle. She understood the game of politics and considered her role as reporter and analyst as a contribution to our democracy.
“I do feel strongly that informing the voters about what’s going on, trying to explain it in ways that people can understand, and putting the issues out there is a form of participation,” Roberts said in an interview with Kentucky Educational Television.
The Importance of Facts
As she reflected on today’s 24-hour news cycle, media outlets that are more social than news-oriented, and a rush to be the first to report rather than taking the time to verify facts, Roberts had serious concerns about how news is vetted, edited and reported.
“I think a huge amount of our job as older journalists is to… explain to young people that, no, getting it first is not the most important thing. Getting it right is.” From the interview with Kentucky Educational Television.
Roberts was memorialized by long-time colleague and friend Nina Totenberg as the “personification of human decency.” Totenberg shares a more private perspective of Roberts, describing her dedication to helping others in big and small ways.
“On a larger scale, she was always the voice of people with less power, and the voice of what is right.” Nina Totenberg
In addition to her long career with NPR, Roberts was also a political contributor to PBS and in 1988, she joined ABC as a political correspondent while continuing to contribute to NPR programs. She is a best-selling author, an Emmy Award winner, has earned the Edward R. Murrow Award, and was inducted into the Broadcast & Cable Hall of Fame. Her legacy will be one of formidable women journalists, brilliant political insight, and kindness.