David Broder's remarkable life and career
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 8:24 PM
On the night before the 2008 New Hampshire primary, a few Washington Post reporters gathered for dinner in Manchester to pay tribute to our colleague David Broder for covering presidential contests in the Granite State for nearly half a century. We all knew it might be the last primary he would cover there.
He was in good form, dressed in his typical road wear - an old, tan corduroy jacket and plaid flannel shirt. He had a smile on his face and was totally in his element. He loved these moments in every campaign, as the voters were about to speak. At one point, he was asked for any last-minute observations. "Watch Ron Paul!" he said with a laugh.
Younger reporters around the table - and everyone at the table qualified - offered Broder stories. One told of the time he dressed up as David Broder for a Halloween costume party. "Did you win the contest?" Dave asked, clearly amused.
Another, who once had a fear of flying, recalled how relieved she was to see him on her flight to Iowa during an earlier campaign. "I thought, 'This plane can't crash,' " she said. " 'It's got David Broder on it.' "
Another told him she had been reading his reporting and columns since 1976. She knew that "because that's when I learned to read." Dave smiled. "They're hiring children now," he exclaimed to more laughter.
Finally, someone recalled how, many weeks earlier, Dave had offered a private prediction at a politics staff meeting that Barack Obama was going to win the presidency. Obama would stumble the next day in New Hampshire, but Dave's prediction, made long before it was conventional wisdom, obviously turned out to be correct.
"How do you know that?" we asked that night. "He's from Illinois," Dave said with a chuckle. Illinois was the reporter's home state.
That was typical of how he dealt with questions he didn't really want to answer - with modesty and a quip that would give away nothing about the secrets to his extraordinary talents.
David Broder was the best political reporter of his or any other generation. He defined the beat as it had not been defined before. He spent a lifetime instructing succeeding generations of reporters - never by dictate but always by example.
He could be tough on politicians when they deserved it, but he was extraordinarily generous to his colleagues, particularly those new to the beat. He created a climate of collegiality that allowed everyone else to flourish, even while demonstrating from one campaign to the next the keenest insights and shrewdest judgments.
His secret was no secret at all. He was a tireless reporter. He wrote two columns a week for most of the past 40 years, but for almost that entire time he carried a full load as a reporter on The Washington Post's national staff. As influential as he was as a columnist, he considered himself a reporter first and foremost.
He brought enormous integrity and humility to his craft. He wanted to know what others thought. He did not form his judgments and then go prove his point. He listened to people, no matter how grand or small their station, and took their scattered observations and spun them into the wisdom he dispensed in his writings.