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Remembering Cokie Roberts — and Cokie's Washington

The late journalist Cokie Roberts
The late journalist Cokie Roberts (Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News via AP)

By Thursday, 19 September 2019 07:40 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The word spread fast and the mourning began almost immediately in Washington, D.C., Tuesday after the family of Cokie Roberts announced that the veteran radio (National Public Radio) and TV (ABC) reporter-commentator died.

Roberts, who was 75, was a Washington institution. The daughter of House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and Rep. Lindy Boggs (who succeeded him in Congress in 1973), both Louisiana Democrats, Corrine "Cokie" Roberts grew up playing in the U.S. Capitol with the children of her father's colleagues.

President Lyndon B. Johnson attended her 1966 wedding to fellow correspondent Steven V. Roberts. Her older brother Tommy, who lost a bid for Congress himself in 1970 (from Maryland), went on to become a "super-lobbyist" with high-powered friendships in both parties.

Cokie herself, who entered journalism immediately after her graduation from Wellesley College, was liked and respected on both sides of the aisle, even when she and the members of Congress she covered disagreed with her.

"Cokie was lovely and bright," her fellow Louisianan, former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston, told us. "She was a born liberal, but she was gracious and kind. I considered her to be a genuine friend and will miss her."

But in recalling Cokie Roberts and mourning her passing, it is also important to recall that she was an ambassador from another time in Washington — when the nation's capital functioned almost as a small town.

Cokie Roberts was a well-established journalist before members of the House got taxpayer-funded trips home every weekend. As she came of age, members were limited to two paid trips to their districts per year. As a result, most brought their families to Washington and sent their children to schools in the District of Columbia or its surrounding suburbs.

"Cokie used to say that in the 1950s, we were 'Hill brats together,'" Adam Clayton Powell, III, the namesake son of the storied congressman from Harlem, told Newsmax. "That's because her father and my father worked together closely and often."

Powell, now head of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, noted that "Cokie and I worked together in the 1970s at CBS News — she was the Athens [Greece] stringer — and then at NPR in the 1980s. She was a good friend in every sense of the phrase, and one of the very best journalists in the business."

There were no barriers to friendship and socializing based on party membership. At a White House Christmas Party in 2004 (where I introduced my father to Cokie), she cheerfully recalled to us "how the Hermanns lived next door to us and I babysat for their daughter Jo Ann." The daughter of a powerful Democratic congressman was referring to A.B. Hermann, a longtime executive daughter of the Republican National Committee, and his daughter, who grew up to be Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R.-Mo.

"When Cokie Roberts grew up, Washington, D.C.. was truly a small town," said political analyst Marc Rotterman, the son of venerable Washington correspondent Louis Rotterman. "There was no Metro, you could still drive by the White House, and the Capitol was easily accessible to staff and to the public. Neither the Willard Hotel nor Union Station were open."

"Home prices for the most part were affordable. Many in Congress had been in the armed services and their main agenda was to move America forward after World War II.

"Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle socialized together and there was more courtesy and civility."

Rotterman quickly agreed "there were strong philosophical differences between the parties, but they were all put aside at quitting time. Of course, that all that changed during the Vietnam War and Watergate. Through it all, Cokie Roberts maintained a grace and civility of a bygone Washington era."

Shortly before he became White House chief of staff last year, former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R.-S.C., discussed with me his initial upset election in 2010 over 28-year Democratic Rep. John Spratt.

"One issue was that his house and family were in Washington and I planned to commute to South Carolina every weekend and have my family there," he said. "It worked for us. Now you can say that there would be more civility if members of Congress lived and socialized in Washington, or if they coached Little League with the sons of members from the opposition party. Maybe, but the voters wanted something else."

They may have, and they got it. A strong case can be made that the differences between the parties are clearer these days than they were in the Washington of the past. But it is inarguable that it was a lot more pleasant to be in Cokie Roberts' Washington.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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The word spread fast and the mourning began almost immediately in Washington, D.C., Tuesday after the family of Cokie Roberts announced that the veteran radio (National Public Radio) and TV (ABC) reporter-commentator died.
cokie roberts, npr, abc, media, journalist, hale boggs, lindy boggs
Thursday, 19 September 2019 07:40 AM
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