Robert B. Barnett (1968), a Washington, D.C. lawyer and Rita Braver (1970), a CBS News National Correspondent are UW-Madison English Department Distinguished Alumni Award winners for 2017.
Bob graduated from U.W. Madison in 1968 with a B.A., double majoring with honors in English and History. From there, he went to the University of Chicago Law School where he earned a J.D., cum laude, in 1971. After law school, he clerked for Judge John Minor Wisdom of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, Louisiana (1971 – 1972) prior to serving as a law clerk to Justice Byron R. White of the U.S. Supreme Court (1972 – 1973). He also served as legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Walter M. Mondale (1973 – 1975).
Today, Bob is a senior partner of Williams & Connolly, LLP, a Washington D.C. based international law firm, which he joined in 1975. Bob represents corporations and individuals on a wide variety of matters relating to litigation, corporate work, crisis management, transactions and government and media relations. He is well known for his work representing authors, television news correspondents and producers, as well as assisting former government officials with their transitions back to the private sector. His clients include Barack and Michelle Obama, George and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Brian Williams, Bob Woodward and Rita Braver. Bob has worked on ten national presidential campaigns since 1976, focusing on debate preparation. This cycle, he prepared Hillary Clinton for all of her primary and general election debates and played the role of Bernie Sanders in the primary rehearsals and Tim Kaine for the vice presidential debate. Bob’s name appears regularly on rankings of top lawyers, both locally in Washington, D.C. and nationally.
Rita graduated from U.W. Madison in 1970 with a B.A., double majoring in English and Political Science. Today she also is a National Correspondent for the CBS News Broadcast Sunday Morning. After a tenure at the Daily Cardinal, Rita began her broadcast journalism career as a “copy girl” for local CBS affiliate WWL-TV in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has enjoyed a distinguished career with CBS News as an editor, producer, and correspondent. She has reported for the CBS Evening News, 48 Hours, Face the Nation, CBS News This Morning, Street Stories and Public Eye. She was the CBS News Chief White House Correspondent (1993 – 1997) and prior to that, she served as the Chief Law Correspondent for CBS News (1983 – 1993). She has won seven Emmy Awards and numerous other professional awards. Rita also received a Distinguished Service Award from U.W.’s Journalism and Mass Communications department in 1994. Rita also was named an Outstanding Mother by the National Mother’s Day Committee.
Bob and Rita met while undergraduates at Madison, were married in New Orleans, and moved to the Washington D.C. area where they raised a daughter, and where they still reside today. Frequent visitors to Madison, they have been loyal supporters of the University, most recently, serving on the Board of Visitors of the Political Science Department. The U.W. Alumni Association bestowed its highest honor, its Distinguished Alumni Award, to Bob and Rita in 2010.