Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist David Broder, AB’47, AM’51, was known as the unofficial dean of the Washington press corps for so long that many observers of politics could scarcely imagine the title belonging to anyone else.
Broder, who covered national politics for four decades, died Wednesday in a hospice in Arlington, Va. of complications from diabetes, the Post reported. He was 81.
Politicians and journalists alike offered tributes to Broder’s career. President Barack Obama said Broder “built a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commenter of his generation.” U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said Broder “set a standard of thorough, careful and in-depth reporting on politics and public policy.”
Broder’s deep passion for politics took root at the University of Chicago, where he earned his degrees in political science and was an editor of the Chicago Maroon.
A frequent visitor to campus, he received the Alumni Medal in 2005. He was recognized for mentoring young journalists, many of them fellow UChicago graduates. Among the peoplewriting in support of his nomination for the medal, one called him “the embodiment of the very best values of the very best journalists: brave, honest, independent, fair,” who sets the “ethical gold standard in journalism.”
He was on campus in 2000 for a broadcast of Washington Week in Review, joining host Gwen Ifill for a broadcast from Mandel Hall. In 2003, he spoke at a Harris School dinner and received a National League Central championship Cubs cap from then-Dean Susan Mayer.
He recalled his affection for the Cubs and the College in a column he wrote for the Post in 1987, when he returned for his 40th class reunion: “The ballpark has no electronic scoreboards, fancy frills or other distractions to get in the way of the spectator’s experience of the game of baseball. And the Hutchins College, today as then, encourages a direct experience—at whatever level of understanding one can achieve—of the writings of the finest minds of Western civilization.”
Broder grew up in south-suburban Chicago Heights and met his, wife Ann C. Broder, AB’48, AM’51, while in the College. Their son Michael also studied at UChicago and received his MBA in 1991.
He recalled his experiences at UChicago in an interview with the University of Chicago Magazine in 2003.
Although the University had no journalism courses, the College offered solid training for his future career, Broder recalled.
“They taught you to read,” he said, “and to think about what you were reading. So much of what we do in journalism is about parsing people’s sentences. ‘Does this make sense?’ ‘Do the conclusions follow from the premises?’ ‘Are the premises realistic or not?’ ‘Is it consistent with what the same person said or wrote a week before?’”
His college years also trained Broder in politics, the article pointed out. At the Maroon, where the editor was an elected post, Broder’s future wife Ann was recruited to vote against him. It seemed natural: They had gone on a blind date that went badly. “All he talked about was that he was just getting over the flu,” Ann told the magazine. But working together at the Maroon, they discovered “that we had possibility.” She ended up voting for him.
Broder went on to have one of the most storied careers in journalism.
He was the national political correspondent for the Post, with a twice-weekly column on American political life that was syndicated in more than 300 newspapers around the world.
Additionally, millions of television viewers watched Broder’s regular appearances on NBC’s Meet the Press and CNN’s Inside Politics. Among numerous awards, his work earned the 1973 Pulitzer Prize in journalism for distinguished commentary, and in the years since, he has continued to earn acclaim for his integrity, judiciousness and insight.
Before joining the Washington Post in 1966, Broder covered national politics for The New York Times, The Washington Star and Congressional Quarterly. He has reported on every national campaign and convention since 1960, traveling up to 100,000 miles each election year to interview voters and report on the candidates.
He formalized his mentoring of young journalist in his teaching role as a professor of political reporting at the University of Maryland.
He was also the author of seven acclaimed books, among them Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How News Is Made (1981), The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point (1996), and most recently, Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money (2000).