From 2015: Cokie Roberts on Bipartisanship and Keeping an Open Mind in Politics

Sep 18, 2019

The world has lost Cokie Roberts. The NPR Founding Mother died September 17th of complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

Throughout her long career, she worked as a journalist, commentator, and author. In 2015, she was a guest on WHQR’s Coastline, where she spoke to Rachel Lewis Hilburn about the role of politics in her work and life.

Cokie Roberts, welcome to Coastline. 

 

“So nice to be here Rachel, thanks so much.”

 

What is the difference between being a journalist and being a political commentator? 

 

“...the difference generally is a commentator states that point of view and comments and a journalist gets the facts and tells the story straight. I tend not to talk about my point of view very much, but part of that is because really, people expect me to have some strong point of view one way or the other, and I don’t.

 

I've covered politics long enough that I know that both sides are right, and both sides are wrong on many issues. And the smart thing to do is look at every issue, issue-by-issue. And you'll find that some people come to a conclusion that you think is rational and some people don't, and they're not in the same party all the time and they're not of the same ideology all the time.”

 

So you've mentioned that your son is the Budget Director in North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory’s Republican administration. Your parents were well known, well-respected members of Congress, both parents. What is the conversation like at the dinner table? Do you talk politics?

 

“Of course. I mean, I think when our children were growing up that we could be accused of child abuse for talking about the budget at the dinner table. 

 

Steve and I were both covering congress and would come home and talk about the federal budget, poor children. But, sure we talked politics -- we're very pleased and proud of Lee.”

 

Over the years -- you've been a reporter since the 1970s. And so you've seen a lot of political ideologies come and go, I would imagine?

 

“Yeah. But they basically stay the same. I mean the fundamental difference between the parties remains the role of government, and should the government do more, do less, should it be the state government or the federal government? 

 

Those fundamental differences stay there over the years.”

 

Has the dialogue become more vitriolic lately? 

 

“Yes, definitely, and there are a lot of reasons for that. And we in the media bear a good bit of the blame. Jon Stewart once went on CNN and attacked cross-fire, saying that it was such a detrimental, invasion into the body politic because it created this shouting match, and it's a false shouting match for the most part. 

 

Most voters say that they are moderate… and more and more are saying that they are unaffiliated or independent, as the parties move farther into the corners on the left and the right. And so there is a falsity to setting up these screaming matches of only those two points of view, because that's not where most voters are.”

 

I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to have you as a guest. Thank you for joining us. 

 

“Thank you, Rachel. It’s a great treat.”

 

Official NPR tributes to Roberts include remembrances from Nina Totenberg and Steve Inskeep. Those can be found on NPR.org.