David Broder, 1929–2011
The courtly dean of Washington’s press corps
David Broder’s colleagues at The Washington Post recall that the stories he filed on deadline were almost always free of errors and typos. But if his copy was clean, his office was a mess, with papers, books, and press releases stacked on every surface and rising to the ceiling. It was often difficult for him to squeeze through the doorway to reach his desk. When a visit from the fire marshal threatened, colleagues would clean the place while he was on an out-of-town reporting trip.
Raised in Chicago Heights, Ill., Broder got his first taste of the journalist’s life in high school, said The Wall Street Journal. A poor athlete, “he ended up writing about sports instead.” Admitted to the University of Chicago at age 15, he rose to editor of the campus newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, where one of his staff members was his future wife, Ann Collar. After graduation, they worked together briefly at the Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph.
Following stints at Congressional Quarterly and the Washington Star, Broder was hired by The New York Times and was soon on the fast track there, said the Associated Press. But, unimpressed by the paper’s reputation, Broder left after only 18 months. On his way out, he wrote, at an editor’s suggestion, a lengthy memo that assailed the Times’ suffocating bureaucracy and parochial outlook. “It went down in Times lore as ‘the Broder memo.’”
Ben Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post, then “romanced him like he’s never been romanced,” said The Washington Post—but in coffee shops, not French restaurants, Bradlee said, “because Broder was a coffee-shop kind of man.” It was at the Post that Broder came into his own as a columnist who valued reporting above punditry, frequently going house-to-house in crucial primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa to meet voters. And “he made a point of getting to know governors, recognizing that they often became presidents.”
Legendary for his work ethic, fairness, and collegiality, Broder continued his twice-weekly column even after he took a buyout from the Post in 2008. His last column appeared in the paper on Feb. 6.