Columnist David Broder dead at 81

admin Contributor
Font Size:

WASHINGTON (AP) — David Broder, the prize-winning Washington Post political columnist whose even-handed treatment of Democrats and Republicans set him apart from the ideological warriors on U.S. opinion pages, died Wednesday. He was 81.

Post officials said Broder died of complications from diabetes.

Broder was familiar to America television viewers as a frequent panelist on NBC television’s “Meet the Press” Program. He appeared on the program more than 400 times, far more than any other journalist in the show’s history.

To newspaper readers, he was one of America’s most prominent syndicated columnists. A September 2007 study by the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters found that Broder was second among columnists only to conservative George Will in the combined circulation of newspapers in which his column appeared.

He was the only one of the top five that the group did not label as either conservative or liberal.

“His even-handed approach has never wavered. He’d make a good umpire,” wrote Alan Shearer, editorial director of the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicated Broder’s column. “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.”

President Barack Obama said Broder “built a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commentator of his generation — winning a Pulitzer Prize and earning the affectionate title of dean of the Washington press corps. Through all his success, David remained an eminently kind and gracious person, and someone we will dearly miss.”

Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement, “We could always count on David to ask the tough but fair questions. His work demonstrated why freedom of the press is at the heart of the American experiment.”

One of his hallmarks was a special effort to meet lots of 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.

Broder was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the top award for U.S. journalists, for his columns written in 1972, the year when President Richard M. Nixon swept to a second term over Democrat George McGovern.

In 1990, a survey of newspaper editors conducted by Washingtonian magazine rated Broder as “Best Reporter,” ”Hardest Working,” and “Least Ideological” among more than 100 columnists.

In 2008, he took a buyout from The Washington Post, ending his career as a full-time employee there. He continued writing his twice-weekly syndicated column.

A top New York Times reporter, Broder surprised colleagues in 1966 by moving to the less-regarded Washington Post, in part out of frustrations with the Times’ bureaucratic ways.

Working with editor Ben Bradlee, he began raising the Post’s reputation for strong political reporting, which was boosted further by its Watergate coverage in the 1970s that brought down Nixon.

Broder was unlike star reporters who carefully guarded their sources and tips. Dan Balz, his longtime Post colleague, said Broder “was the most generous colleague any of us has ever worked with.”

Broder’s appetite for working long hours and weekends was legendary. Balz recalled a nighttime presidential debate in the 1990s in which Broder wrote “a perfectly fine” analysis on deadline, then completely reworked it in the 45 minutes before the next edition’s deadline. He then went to his hotel room and wrote a separate column on the debate.

Young editors who grew up revering Broder’s work sometimes found themselves in the unnerving role of being his editor. Broder typically accepted their suggestions with a breezy grace, urging them to trust their instincts.

Among the books he wrote were “Behind the Front Page” and “Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money.”