Four people were key to the rise of The Washington Post as the premier site for political journalism in the last forty years of the twentieth century: Kay Graham, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and David Broder. Almost singlehandedly Broder, who died Wednesday at eighty-one, made the Post into a daily must-read for those involved in national politics and federal policy-making. Broder’s intelligence, insight, and diligence made him a model for three generations of reporters, not only at the Post but at newspapers everywhere.
Broder’s command of the field was unequalled, and his appetite for information insatiable. He traveled the country twelve months a year, walking swing precincts, knocking on doors, snagging voters in suburban cul de sacs and church parking lots. In 2005, when he was forced briefly into a wheelchair, he persuaded his wife, Ann, to drive him to Pennsylvania where she dropped him off at a shopping mall so he could conduct his man-in-the-street interviews. He never tired of attending breakfasts with public officials, wandering the halls of Congress, buttonholing political scientists, and devouring surveys, polls, and scholarly research. At his desk in the city room, stacked with newspapers, he was on the phone from morning to night.
He was a man of unmatched integrity, always willing to help out a junior colleague. In 1978, when I was an unknown reporter and published my first analytic piece in an obscure left-wing quarterly, David ferreted me out and invited me to lunch. I can fairly say he made my career. He shared his Rolodex, suggested leads, generated ideas, and provided ethical guidance. He was never flashy, shunning upscale restaurants, prime seating, and obsequious attention. On days when he was at the Post, he joined fellow reporters for lunch in the cafeteria. David needed no oversight, but he gracefully accepted suggestions from the lowliest copy editor. Unlike many reporters who see a co-worker’s gain as their loss, David took the opposite view, reflecting his deep commitment to the news generally and to The Washington Post specifically.