David Broder, 81, dies; set 'gold standard' for political journalism

The Pulitzer-winning Washington Post political columnist, who was known as the dean of the Washington press corps and covered national politics for four decades, has died.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 12:39 AM

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. The White House issued a statement from President Obama that called him a "true giant of journalism" and added that he "built a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commentator of his generation."

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said in a statement, "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."

Asking tough questions

Balding, sporting horn-rimmed glasses and measured in his speaking style, Mr. Broder was once likened to an MIT professor in appearance. He was a frequent and instantly recognizable panelist on TV news-discussion shows, a penetrating questioner who often put politicians on the spot and a clear-eyed analyst who could cut to the heart of an issue.

On "Meet the Press" in 1987, he probed whether then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, the GOP front-runner in the next year's White House race, was too much an Eastern patrician to understand average Americans.

Mr. Broder asked the candidate whether he knew how many Americans lacked health insurance and how many U.S. children were born into poverty.

Bush said he didn't know, adding: "We have the best medical-attention system in the world, and I don't want to see it go into the mode of England or this whole concept of socialized medicine where the government provides absolutely everything. You are going to break the government."

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