Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist David Broder Dies at 81
Updated 7:26 p.m. ET with comments from Margaret Warner | Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David S. Broder died on Wednesday of complications from diabetes, his newspaper, The Washington Post, reported. He was 81 years old.
Broder, a frequent guest on the NewsHour, Washington Week and other political discussion shows for decades, wrote a twice-weekly column for the Post — which also appeared in numerous newspapers across the country — covering many aspects of American political life for more than half a century.
Broder, a native of the Chicagoland area, was known for detecting political trends early and explaining shifts in the electorate’s mood. In 1973, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary
He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago and served two years in the Army. His newspaper career began at the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph. Before joining the Post in 1966, Broder covered national politics for The New York Times, The Washington Star and Congressional Quarterly. He covered every national campaign of the past five decades, beginning with the presidential convention of 1956, traveling extensively to interview voters and candidates.
Gwen Ifill wrote this remembrance:
>It’s fair to say I would not be a political journalist, certainly not the kind of journalist I am, if it were not for David Broder. There is an entire generation of us who learned how to be a reporter, and how to do it honorably, by watching his example.
I can name dozens of reporters who can tell some variation of this story: out on the road as a junior cub, trying to figure out up from down…and being approached by this gentleman, who when we looked up we realized was the great David Broder. He always offered a tip, an idea, a word of encouragement and asked about us.
He was smart, engaged to the very end, deeply curious about what Americans far from the center of power thought about what was happening in Washington. I knocked on doors with him and learned how to ask and how to listen. I watched his example and learned how to be of help to younger reporters who looked lost or disheartened. And I loved his laugh. He knew the difference between what was serious and what was just … not.
Margaret Warner remembered Broder this way:
When I met David Broder in the 1976 campaign, I was the most junior of cub reporters working for a small New Hampshire newspaper. He was already the Pulitzer Prize-winning dean of the national political press corps, but he always had time for me, and other young colleagues. Tromping back to the bus after a primary debate in some snowbound town hall or a candidate’s speech at a local Rotary Club, he was generous with his insights — and paid you the ultimate compliment of seeking yours.
There was so much to learn from this reporter’s reporter, in technique and attitude. He had a passion for the nitty gritty of field reporting. He dug deep. David made it his business to know know the political up-and-comers in a state, not just the big players. He realized that city or county party chairmen and local city council members had insights the big shots didn’t have — and often were far more candid. And when some of those up-and-comers became big shots themselves, they always remembered — and were quick to return calls from — the reporter who had sought their insights when they were starting out.
David also taught us to have respect for the men and women in politics. Even when he criticized them — and he did when he felt they let the voters down — he never expressed contempt for them, in public or in private.
Above all, he respected and even treasured the voters. He never missed an opportunity to talk to them. Long after other reporters had knocked off their requisite post-event interviews, David was still deep in conversation with a hardware store owner or a mother with children in tow. He wasn’t looking for person-on-the-street soundbites, but a clue to why they thought as they did. That’s why he saw political trains coming when other reporters hadn’t even felt the ground rumble.
Michael Mosettig, the NewsHour’s foreign affairs and defense editor, had this remembrance:
I was a copy boy at the beloved old Washington Evening Star, all of 17 years old, when I first saw David Broder — a tall gangly fellow — walking down the newsroom aisle in the spring of 1960. He had just joined the paper from Congressional Quarterly as a junior political reporter.
And what an election year that turned out to be — ending in JFK’s squeaker election.
What none of the obits has mentioned is that three years later, David accompanied President Kennedy on a political trip to Texas and had the saddest of assignments, covering the assassination in Dallas. He rarely, if ever, talked about it.
He was gracious to the copy boys then. He remained gracious to the end. What he and I shared was an enduring sense of loss for the Evening Star.
Broder’s work was known for its objectivity and insight. According to the Post’s obituary:
A survey for Washingtonian magazine found that Broder was rated “Washington’s most highly regarded columnist” by both editorial-page editors and members of Congress, leading 16 others in ratings for “overall integrity, factual accuracy and insight.”
In 1990, a survey by Washingtonian magazine of the opinion-page editors of the largest 200 newspapers rated Broder as “Best Reporter,” “Hardest Working,” and “Least Ideological” among some 123 columnists.
“His even-handed approach has never wavered. He’d make a good umpire,” wrote Alan Shear, editorial director of the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicated Broder’s column, according to The Associated Press. “Dave is neither left nor right, and can’t even be called reliably centrist. He reports exhaustively and his conclusions are grounded in hard facts.”
One of the hallmarks of Broder’s reporting was extra effort to meet many average citizens who, in the end, really decide elections. In a 1991 lecture, Broder said reporters should spend “a lot of time with voters…walking precincts, knocking on doors, talking to people in their living rooms. If we really got clearly in our heads what it is voters are concerned about, it might be possible to let their agenda drive our agenda.
The Post has a slideshow of Broder’s career.