Let’s take a break from our society’s normal crudefest for a brief moment to honor civility. Cokie Roberts epitomized civility. She was no pushover – far from it. When it was required, she was as hard as nails. In today’s nasty society, she sometimes needed to be. But somehow, she maneuvered through all of our disagreements in ways that were entirely agreeable.
Yes, I know: By now, you might be tired of hearing about Cokie from her colleagues and buddies. But Cokie’s life is a symbol of what it will take to prevent the toxic atmosphere from poisoning our environment. For good. First of all, although she was far too down to earth to realize it, Cokie was a pioneer. The tributes following her death from breast cancer highlight her trailblazing for women in journalism. She did do that, smoothly knocking down so many of the obstacles that males had put up to block females from invading our cozy bastions in the media.
She didn’t appear to be a hard-nose, but she was one. She and her talented “founding mothers” led a revolution by simply outreporting her competitors, day by day getting the facts straight, and providing the proper context. In that regard, she was a role model for the women who dominate our craft today.
But she hasn’t been simply a female role model; she was an equal-opportunity one. She demonstrated the ideals that all of us should follow. She avoided shortcuts and followed all the tedious standards that are necessary to get the story right. And she did it without antagonizing the fragile egos that permeate Washington.
“If you want a friend in Washington,” Harry Truman famously said, “get a dog.” Obviously, he didn’t know Cokie Roberts. She was a friend to everyone she encountered, and not only those who could benefit her, but anyone fortunate enough to meet her. What’s so amazing is that she grew up in a world of D.C. privilege, in a family that was a part of Washington’s wheeler-dealer power structure. Somehow, that same family imparted commonsense values in her. She was considerate to everyone. And that laugh! She had a lusty laugh.
If you heard it from a distance, you would have thought she’d just been told a very funny dirty joke. But that wasn’t necessary to have a stimulating conversation. She was really smart, but didn’t flog you with her awesome intelligence. She was simply fun, except when it came to her work ethic and persistence. She and her husband, Steve, who is also a media giant, were particularly rough on Donald Trump, who has been criticized for his response to her death. “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,” Trump told reporters.
Actually, they met several times. In fact, she interviewed him. Those of us who were privileged to know her benefited from her inherent decency. Those of the millions who admired her work can take from her life well-lived the lesson of that same decency, which will be required to save us from ourselves.
Whatever your beliefs about where she is after her death, the traditions Cokie Roberts embodied should continue to live on.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2019 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.