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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.

Mr. Broder had genuine admiration for Bush but explained that the questions were important because "even more than most of your rivals, I think you've lived in a very special world. Certainly in the last seven years. And I want to try to sort of test how much you understand about some of the realities for the people in the country that you seek to lead."

Former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. said Mr. Broder was less concerned with being a "scoop artist" than focusing on a larger portrait of contemporary politics. For two generations, he was among the earliest to spot the rise and fall of political stars, and to identify trends such as the movement toward ballot initiatives for states on emotionally charged issues such as gay rights and physician-assisted suicide.

The plainspoken Mr. Broder disliked the influence of political consultants on Washington journalism and their desire to control how news is spun. He preferred to give voters a more prominent voice in the coverage of politics and campaigns.

"I've learned that the most undervalued, underreported aspect of politics is what voters bring to the table," he told Washingtonian magazine. "My generation of reporters was deeply influenced by Teddy White, the greatest political journalist of our time. He showed us how far inside a campaign you could go.

"We naturally emulated him, at least as far as our skills would take us," he said. "Before long, we got so far inside that we forgot the outside - that the campaign belonged not to the candidates or their consultants or their pollsters, but to the public.

"Given the American people's deep skepticism about our political system today," he added, "we can raise their faith some if we give them the feeling that, at least at election time, the press and candidates are responding to their thoughts and views."

'Eyes set a little higher'

In a syndicated political affairs column that was published in 300 newspapers, Mr. Broder was credited with popularizing political ideas and debate coming from academic circles.

"I can't think of any columnist of a major newspaper who took academic political scientists more seriously than David Broder," said Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor and an authority on congressional politics.

Mr. Broder, he added, was able to "reach beyond the dispensers of political wisdom in Washington and tap into a totally different plane than day-to-day commentators in Washington. . . . He could traffic in day-to-day gossip with the best of them, but his eyes were set a little higher, to look at broader trends."

His books include "The Party's Over: The Failure of Politics in America" (1972), which argued for reforms in the two-party system to combat "a rising tide of distrust of government and public officials"; "The System" (1996), in which Mr. Broder and journalist Haynes Johnson examined the failure of President Bill Clinton's health-care reform agenda; and "The Man Who Would Be President" (1992), based on articles he wrote with Post reporter Bob Woodward about Vice President Dan Quayle, who was widely perceived as a lightweight.

That seven-part series on Quayle drew a highly mixed reaction when published in The Post, with some believing Mr. Broder and Woodward had been too soft on Quayle. But the eminence of the two authors and the measured tone of their work - which portrayed Quayle as a resourceful political strategist - spurred a reexamination of the caricature of the much-maligned vice president.

Another book, "Behind the Front Page" (1987), illustrated Mr. Broder's ongoing desire to open the curtain on his profession and look for ways to improve it. In that book, he explored the relationship between journalists and those they cover.

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