Speaking on NPR recently, Cokie Roberts, the soon-to-retire co-host of ABC’s This Week, falsely informed her listeners that “the President was exonerated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.” In fact, even though his daddy was the President of the United States during the incident in question, after a remarkably relaxed investigation the SEC informed Bush’s lawyer that its decision “must in no way be construed as indicating that [George W. Bush] has been exonerated.”
Call me sentimental, but I’m going to miss the old gal. With no discernible politics save an attachment to her class, no reporting and frequently no clue, she was the perfect source for a progressive media critic: a perpetual font of Beltway conventional wisdom uncomplicated by any collision with messy reality.
Lippmann/Dewey fans will remember that the very idea of a watchdog press breaks down when the watchdog starts acting like–and more important, sympathizing with–the folks upon whom he or she has been hired to keep an eye. With Cokie, this was never much of an issue. Her dad was a Congressman. Her mom was a Congresswoman. Her brother is one of the slickest and wealthiest lobbyists in the city. Her husband, Steve Roberts, holds the dubious honor of being perhaps the only person to give up a plum New York Times job because it interfered with his television career. And together they form a tag-team buck-raking/book-writing enterprise offering up corporate speeches and dime-store “Dear Abby”-style marriage advice to those unfortunates who do not enjoy his-and-her television contracts.
Cokie came to public attention at NPR, where she developed some street cred as a Capitol Hill gumshoe, but apparently grew tired of the hassle of actual reporting, which only helped her career. With no concern for the niceties of conflicts of interest, she and her husband accepted together as much as $45,000 in speaking fees from the very corporations that were affected by the legislation she was allegedly covering in Congress. Moreover, she claimed something akin to a royal prerogative in refusing to address the ethical quandary it obviously raised. (A spokesman responding to a journalist’s inquiry said that Queen Cokie’s corporate speaking fees were “not something that in any way, shape or form should be discussed in public.”)
Apparently, nobody ever told Cokie that the job of the insider pundit is to at least pretend to be conversant with the major political, economic and intellectual issues in question before putting these in the service of a consensually derived story line. The pedantic George Will and the peripatetic Sam Donaldson at least give the impression of having considered their remarks ahead of time, either by memorizing from Bartlett’s or pestering politicians. Not Cokie. Once, when a reporting gig interfered with one of her many social and/or speaking engagements, she donned a trench coat in front of a photo of the Capitol in the ABC studios in the hopes of fooling her viewers. She was not a real journalist; she just played one on TV.