David Broder, 81, a Washington institution and Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post, died Wednesday in Arlington of complications from diabetes, according to The Post.
President Obama issued a statement calling Broder "a true giant of journalism" with "a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commentator of his generation."
Known informally as the dean of the Washington press corps, Broder won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for a probing and lucid explanation of the Watergate scandal rather than the newsbreaking itself. A legend in Washington, he covered every presidential campaign since 1956 and appeared on NBC's Meet the Press more than 400 times -- far more than any other guest or journalist.
A constant presence on the campaign trail, he was known for going door-to-door to meet with voters to gauge public opinion in person. "The thing that David cared passionately about was voters and making sure that voters’s voices were kept as the [focus] of a presidential campaign,” says Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz, a longtime friend and colleague of Broder's.
Along the way Broder became a mentor to scores of young political reporters who would go on to successful careers themselves.
“One thing that really made him unusual -- especially if you were a young reporter from a minor paper -- was how generous he was with younger journalists with his time and his insights,” said PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Margaret Warner, who first encountered Broder in the mid-1970s when she was a reporter for the Concord Monitor.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Broder began his journalism career at a neighborhood paper near the school's Hyde Park campus and then a small-town paper in Indiana before coming to Washington to work for Congressional Quarterly and the now-deceased Washington Star. Scooped up by The New York Times in 1965, he was wooed away soon thereafter by The Washington Post, which was his journalistic home for a career that continued until February of this year when he wrote his last piece for the capital's largest daily newspaper.
“In his thoughtful and probing questions based on decades of scholarship and on-the-scene observations, David Broder set the modern 'gold standard' for those of us engaged in political life as we sought to persuade others, to legislate and to administer the successful progress of our country,” said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in a statement. It's a fair bet that Broder would have returned the compliment. He hailed politicians who were bipartisan and those who were respectful of the decorum of their institutions.
As journalism has become more partisan, Broder's studied even-handedness and applause for bipartisanship came under attack. Frank Rich, the New York Times columnist now en route to New York magazine, dubbed him Washington's biggest "bloviator," and the liberal netroots cheered when Broder was reprimanded in 2008 by The Post for accepting speaking fees from outside groups after a Harper's article uncovered his lucrative freelancing. Broder apologized to the paper.
Still, little could diminish Broder's reputation at The Post, where he was considered one of the stars of the paper's golden age of coverage during the Watergate scandal. With publisher Katharine Graham deceased, former editor Ben Bradlee in retirement, and Bob Woodward retaining a title at the paper but spending most of his time on his best-selling books, Broder's consistent output of columns and news stories was a tangible reminder of the paper's storied past.