This is a sad day for journalists, columnists, and particularly for centrists and independent voters everywhere: David Broder, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnst of The Washington Post, has died:
David S. Broder, 81, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post and one of the most respected writers on national politics for four decades, died Wednesday at Capital Hospice in Arlington of complications from diabetes.
Mr. Broder was often called the dean of the Washington press corps – a nickname he earned in his late 30s in part for the clarity of his political analysis and the influence he wielded as a perceptive thinker on political trends in his books, articles and television appearances.
In 1973, Mr. Broder and The Post each won Pulitzers for coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Broder’s citation was for explaining the importance of the Watergate fallout in a clear, compelling way.
As passionate about baseball as he was about politics, he likened Nixon’s political career to an often-traded pitcher who had “bounced around his league.”
He covered every presidential convention since 1956 and was widely regarded as the political journalist with the best-informed contacts, from the lowliest precinct to the highest rungs of government.
Former Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee called Mr. Broder “the best political correspondent in America. David knew politics from the back room up – the mechanics of politics, the county and state chairmen – whereas most Washington reporters knew it at the Washington level.”
Mr. Broder was praised at the highest echelons of political power. Former vice president Walter F. Mondale said Mr. Broder was the “preeminent political journalist and columnist in the country. He was the best. He was solid and careful. His sources and his understanding were so deep.”
Broder was of particular importance to centrists, moderates, and independent voters — and to anyone in the United States who believes that our politics is increasingly broken by heigtened polarization, by the word “compromise” to be seen as a dirty word by many on both sides, and by written and verbal name calling now being seen as a virtue in terms of making political arguments and building an audience.
In the age of the Internet, Broder often came under attack by members of the party base of each major political party — particularly when he made it clear that he considered the concept of governing and politicking by consensus a sign of weakness, not strenth. And, in terms of his writing, he was long considered at the top of his game among the ranks of Washington-based political columnists. One thing Broder never lost from his early days until his last: that analysis should be fact based…or at least you should make every effort you can to find the facts.
David Broder was the best political reporter of his or any other generation. He defined the beat as it had not been defined before. He spent a lifetime instructing succeeding generations of reporters – never by dictate but always by example.
He could be tough on politicians when they deserved it, but he was extraordinarily generous to his colleagues, particularly those new to the beat. He created a climate of collegiality that allowed everyone else to flourish, even while demonstrating from one campaign to the next the keenest insights and shrewdest judgments.
And here he nails it:
His secret was no secret at all. He was a tireless reporter. He wrote two columns a week for most of the past 40 years, but for almost that entire time he carried a full load as a reporter on The Post’s national staff. As influential as he was as a columnist, he considered himself a reporter first and foremost.
He brought enormous integrity and humility to his craft. He wanted to know what others thought. He did not form his judgments and then go prove his point. He listened to people, no matter how grand or small their station, and took their scattered observations and spun them into the wisdom he dispensed in his writings.
He knew the details of everything but never lost sight of the big picture. In an era when political reporting has become more and more focused on minutiae, he kept his focus where it belonged – on the events and forces that move ordinary Americans and shape history. He loved the inside stuff, but he never mistook the whim of the moment for something real….
….Above all, he believed that campaigns should belong to the voters, not to candidates or the media. He sought them out. He knocked on their doors – literally – in precincts carefully selected for their voting patterns.
This is old-fashioned reporting, hard but rewarding. Dave did it until the very end of his days. Hour after hour, as darkness fell on a chill autumn evening or in the heat of a summer Saturday, he would trudge up and down the streets of towns across the country, inviting himself in to hear a father’s fears, a mother’s hopes, a family’s aspirations.