“In reviewing this litany of troubles,” Mr. David wrote in the Economist nearly two years before the so-called Arab Spring, “it is necessary to remember that what people call ‘the Arab world’ is a big and amorphous thing, and arguably not one thing at all.”
Mr. David had long waded into complex political passions during his 28 years with the Economist, the influential London-based magazine of international and financial affairs. He supervised the magazine’s coverage of the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, and his service as foreign editor from 2002 to 2009 coincided with the bloody conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was, variously, a top editor overseeing business and British political coverage and author of the Bagehot column on British politics.
For the past three years, he had been Washington bureau chief and primary U.S. political correspondent and author of the prestigious Lexington column focused on U.S. political affairs. His death on May 10 at age 60 in a car accident near Charlottesville was announced by the Economist.
He was a Georgetown resident but brooked no interest in Washington’s social caravan of journalists-as-celebrities. His receding, curly hair, owlish glasses and aversion to anything resembling cardio fitness were perhaps an anomaly in the age of on-call experts for cable news.
However “amiably rumpled” he appeared, said political strategist William A. Galston, Mr. David was held in high regard by journalists and policy makers. “He was a modest man with very little to be modest about — sort of the reverse of your standard Washington personage,” said Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.
Mr. David bemoaned that the journalism profession had largely been supplanted by multimedia “reportrons” who were taking over from experts who could provide context and meaning to developing events.
His authority was valued at the Economist, where he was called on to write “leaders,” front-of-the book essays of sweeping tone and concise wording. They illuminated broad themes such as the 50th anniversary of Israel, South Africa’s transition to majority rule and the alarming machismo of political leaders in the United States and Iran.
Peter Howard David was born Sept. 7, 1951, in Johannesburg to a family of Lithuanian Jews who had settled in South Africa decades earlier to escape pogroms. His father was a lawyer, and his mother embraced left-wing political activism through the Liberal Party that challenged apartheid-style government.