Editor’s Note: Linda Ellerbee was a correspondent and anchor for ABC, NBC and CBS news. She later spent 25 years as executive producer, writer and anchor for Nickelodeon’s “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee,” TV’s longest-running children’s news show and winner of 13 Emmy Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
It is the late ’70s. There is a waiting room, a hall with a wooden bench, actually. Cokie Roberts and I sit on the bench in the waiting room that isn’t.
She is new to NPR. I am new to NBC News. Because we are newbies, and, well, girls, we are sent to cover stories where news isn’t always new.
Inside the room, a conference committee of US Representatives and Senators is working out the final bits of a piece of legislation before it goes to the president to be signed into law. The legislation is the Hyde Amendment, which will prevent or severely curtail federally funding for pregnancy terminations.
The Hyde Amendment will not prevent women from getting legal abortions. It will merely prevent poor women from getting them.
There are no male reporters in that hall with us. There are no women in the room where law is being made. Cokie and I speak of unfairness, something we live with, work with and protest as best we can. We speak of how we want to change things – not just laws about reproductive rights, but how we want to remove all restrictions on women.
We believe we can. We believe we will. We are still new in journalism.
But the thing is, Cokie did. Cokie looked at her world. Saw it. Researched it. Reported it. Analyzed it. And explained it.
One of great things Cokie did was to put the news in plain English, force it to stand up and make sense. She did that better than I.
In the first decade of the 21st century Cokie got breast cancer, which would claim her life Tuesday. I had breast cancer in the last decade of the 20th century. We spoke about that too, wondered if the fact the government spent so little money on breast cancer studies and treatment might have something to do with the fact that breast cancer was primarily a woman’s disease.
We used what we knew to fight for our lives, and for the lives of other women. We pointed out early and often out that nobody knew much about breast cancer. We protested. Maybe we changed something. Maybe we didn’t.
And maybe that was our theme song over the years. We saw women make gains. We saw those gains taken back. One step forward, two steps back. Bow to the left. Bow to the right. Smile, ladies.
This is where I could sing Cokie’s praises. This is where I could tell you why she counts. But there are plenty of other people to do that today, and I am too angry.
I’m angry because Cokie is gone. I’m angry because in 2019, I live in an America where women are still being told to go back out into the hall. Go sit on that bench again. You don’t belong in the room where it happens.
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I’m angry as hell. Cokie was 75. I’m 75. And all I can think about today is a protest sign carried by a woman on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
I saw the woman and her sign on the news. Today I want to shout it from the rooftops. For me. For you. For all our sisters.
But mostly, I want to shout this for Cokie Roberts.
“I’M 75 YEARS OLD AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M STILL PROTESTING THIS SAME CRAP!”
But Cokie, know this: I’m not going to stop. RIP on that one, my friend.