US tributes flow for trailblazing trusted voice

Roberts, photographed in her home in Maryland in February 2019Image copyright
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Roberts, photographed in her home in Maryland in February 2019

Pioneering journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts, celebrated for her four-decade career covering US politics, has died at the age of 75.

Roberts began her career at CBS, moving next to National Public Radio and then ABC, where she helped set the tone of American political coverage during a period when few women claimed ranking positions in its newsrooms.

“We will miss Cokie beyond measure, both for her contributions and for her love and kindness,” her family said in a statement.

She died of complications from breast cancer, the statement said.

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Roberts is survived by her husband of 53 years, journalist Steven Roberts, their children Lee and Rebecca Roberts and six grandchildren.

Tributes for the veteran reporter poured in soon after news of her death was announced on Tuesday.

Former US President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama called Roberts “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”.

Fellow NPR reporter Nina Totenberg wrote on Twitter that “the world will be a lesser place” without Roberts.

Born in New Orleans on 27 December 1943 as Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, Roberts was called Cokie by her brother, Thomas, who had difficulty pronouncing Corinne. The nickname stuck until her death.

Raised in a prominent political family, Roberts first walked the halls of Congress as a young child, an early foreshadowing of her career covering Washington.

Her father, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr, served in Congress for more than 30 years before he went missing on a campaign flight in Alaska in 1972. Her mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, took over for her husband, holding the seat for 17 years.

Roberts graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1964 with a degree in political science before being hired as a radio correspondent for CBS. She moved to National Public Radio in 1978 as a Capitol Hill reporter, remaining a part-time political commentator for the network until her death.

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Roberts (right) at the Democratic Convention in 1996

In a statement, NPR President Jarl Mohn called Roberts one of the network’s “founding mothers” and described her as “the trusted voice that Americans count on when political news breaks”.

In 1988, she joined ABC, beginning a three-decade tenure with the network. With ABC, she served as political commentator, chief congressional analyst and anchor for the Sunday morning news programme This Week.

Roberts also wrote eight books, most recently Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868, which focused mostly on the role of women in American history.

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George W Bush prepares for an interview with Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson in July 2000

Roberts won numerous awards for her work, including three Emmys. She was inducted to the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008.

She was recognised by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting.

“It is such a privilege,” Roberts said in a 2017 interview with Kentucky Educational Television, of her famed career. “You have a front seat to history.”

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