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Former ABC Broadcaster Sam Donaldson Remembers Cokie Roberts


This morning, we are remembering the life of our friend and colleague Cokie Roberts. Cokie joined NPR in its earliest years and was a fundamental part of making it the place it is today. She worked here and at ABC News for decades.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, Washington, "This Week" with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.


MARTIN: From 1996 to 2002, Cokie co-anchored the network's flagship Sunday morning show with veteran broadcaster Sam Donaldson. I spoke with Donaldson yesterday as he reflected back on their long friendship.

SAM DONALDSON: To say Cokie Roberts was a fine journalist - she knew everybody in town, she knew politics backward and forward - to say all of that is quite true, but it misses the essence of Cokie. She was a force of nature.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DONALDSON: This person could be at one moment charming, kind, considerate and all of that, and the next moment, confronting a politician who didn't want to answer her question...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DONALDSON: ...Tough as nails, and, I mean, always respectful. But, I mean, she drilled in. And I think people have been playing a clip from the Brinkley show from years and years ago that I remember so well. And I'm just going to repeat it, and...

MARTIN: Please.

DONALDSON: ...It's simply that one day, John Tower, senator from Texas, had been nominated to be secretary of defense in 1989. His critics said he drank too much. But they've also criticized him - and I said, Senator, a lot of people up there on the Hill who don't like you say you're a womanizer. Well, Sam, he said, what is a womanizer? And Cokie Roberts spoke up and fixed Senator Tower with sort of a steely gaze and said, Senator, I know one when I see one.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DONALDSON: And, I mean, it was like the balloon bursting. She was that way.


DONALDSON: And yet, I'm sure she considered herself someone who knew the senator and was friendly with him, from the standpoint of the way you're collegiate, at least in those days, with people in Washington, even if you had different roles and sometimes had to cover them in a way that was not something they wanted.

MARTIN: What did you learn from her from sitting alongside her all those years, from watching her in those moments?

DONALDSON: Well, I learned one thing from her, and perhaps some others too, but particularly from Cokie that you need not always consider that you're tough as nails. You need not always think, my goodness, I'm going to ask the killer question - not because you wanted to put someone on the spot. Cokie taught me that you could be tough. You could ask the tough questions. But you didn't have to show that I am the toughest person in the world.

MARTIN: That it wasn't about you. It wasn't about the journalist, yeah. In my own social media feed, I'm seeing a lot of friends, colleagues, former colleagues, women, remembering how she mentored them, always had a kind word, lifted women up - all her colleagues, but young women in particular who were trying to find their way in journalism and broadcast television news in particular. Did you see that from her as well?

DONALDSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, that - she mentored young women. She had made it. She'd made it by doing it. And I'm sure when Cokie started she had to give 110 degrees just to be even. I mean, men dominated - we dominated. And we knew it. And to let women in was difficult. She remembers the day that she first showed up on the Brinkley show. And she walked in. And she said later - she said, well, it was like going into the lion's den. You were the tamest lion of all. And I considered that a big compliment.

MARTIN: (Laughter) You know what? I've also been thinking about - she did this segment for us called Ask Cokie which gave her a chance to take the long view of American history and American politics. She loved America, didn't she? She believed in our better angels.

DONALDSON: Well, see that's the difference. Everyone says they love America. Everyone says they value America, that they are patriotic to America. But do they all believe in our better angels? Do they all try to lift up the other people in America? Do they all, as Cokie did throughout her life, try to help people who were down, who were out, who were not part of the elite? And her love of America was genuine for everyone.

MARTIN: We will miss her. Sam Donaldson - he co-anchored ABC's "This Week" with Cokie Roberts. We've been hearing some of his reflections. Thank you so much for your time.

DONALDSON: Well, thank you for letting me reflect with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Thank you. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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