Longtime columnist David Broder dies at 81

Posted March 09, 2011, at 2:51 p.m.
Last modified March 09, 2011, at 3:45 p.m.
David Broder
David Broder

WASHINGTON  — David Broder, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Washington Post political columnist whose even-handed treatment of Democrats and Republicans set him apart from the ideological warriors on the nation’s op-ed pages, died Wednesday. He was 81.

Post officials said Broder died of complications from diabetes.

Broder, an Illinois native, was familiar to television viewers as a frequent panelist on NBC’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 the nation’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 George Will in the combined circulation of newspapers, including the Bangor Daily News, 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 Shear, 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 for his coverage of Watergate 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.”

One of Broder’s 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.

He won the Pulitzer for his columns written in 1972, the year when Richard 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.

Among the books he wrote or co-wrote were “Behind the Front Page,” ”Dan Quayle: The Man Who Would Be President,” and “Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money.”

Starting in 2001, Broder also served as a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. He also taught for a time at Duke University.

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

Broder was born in Chicago Heights, Ill. He graduated from the University of Chicago and served in the Army from 1951 to 1953 before beginning his journalism career at the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph. He went on to work for Congressional Quarterly, The Washington Star and The New York Times before joining The Washington Post in 1966. He covered every presidential campaign since 1960.

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 farther by its Watergate coverage in the 1970s.

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