WASHINGTON — David Broder, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Washington Post political columnist whose even-handed treatment of Democrats and Republicans set him apart from the ideological warriors on the nation's op-ed pages, died Wednesday. He was 81.
Post officials said Broder died of complications from diabetes.
For decades, Broder set the standard for political coverage by seeing trends ahead of his competitors and by explaining how shifts in voters' moods and concerns forced politicians to adapt nimbly or falter. Long after he was famous he did tiring, shoe-leather reporting, including knocking on doors in bellwether precincts to discern voters' attitudes.
Longtime colleague and Post political writer Dan Balz said Broder "defined political reporting in America in a way nobody else did."
President Barack Obama issued a statement from the White House:
Like so many here in Washington and across the country, Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of a true giant of journalism, David Broder. David filed his first story from our nation’s capital before starting as a junior political writer on the 1960 presidential election. In the decades that followed, he built a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commentator of his generation – winning a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Watergate and earning the affectionate title of Dean of the Washington press corps. Through all his success, David remained an eminently kind and gracious person, and someone we will dearly miss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this difficult time.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Broder "set the standard for modern political reporting and analysis. ... Everyone who cares about self-government owes a debt to David."
Broder was familiar to television viewers as a panelist on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. He appeared on the program more than 400 times, far more than any other journalist in the show's history.
He was the rare journalist who combined straight news reporting with a regular column on politics that appeared on the op-ed pages of dozens of newspapers. A September 2007 study by the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters found that Broder was second among columnists only to George Will in the combined circulation of newspapers in which his column appeared.
He was the only one of the top five whom the group did not label as either conservative or liberal.
"His even-handed approach has never wavered," wrote Alan Shear, editorial director of the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicated Broder's column. "Dave is neither left nor right, and can't even be called reliably centrist. He reports exhaustively and his conclusions are grounded in hard facts."
One of Broder's hallmarks was a special effort to meet lots of average citizens who, in the end, really decide elections. In a 1991 lecture, Broder said reporters should spend "a lot of time with voters ... walking precincts, knocking on doors, talking to people in their living rooms. If we really got clearly in our heads what it is voters are concerned about, it might be possible to let their agenda drive our agenda.
He won the Pulitzer for columns written in 1972, the year when Richard Nixon swept to a second term over Democrat George McGovern.
In 1990, a survey of newspaper editors conducted by Washingtonian magazine rated Broder as "Best Reporter," "Hardest Working" and "Least Ideological" among more than 100 columnists.
Among the books he wrote or co-wrote were "Behind the Front Page," "Dan Quayle: The Man Who Would Be President" and "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money."
Starting in 2001, Broder served as a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. He also taught for a time at Duke University, but he always said he preferred reporting.
In 2008, he took a buyout from the Post, ending his career as a full-time employee there. But he continued writing his twice-weekly syndicated column.
Broder was born in Chicago Heights, Ill. He graduated from the University of Chicago and served in the Army from 1951 to 1953 before beginning his journalism career at the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph. He worked for Congressional Quarterly, The Washington Star and The New York Times before joining The Washington Post in 1966. He covered every presidential campaign since 1960.
A top New York Times reporter, Broder surprised colleagues in 1966 by moving to the less-regarded Washington Post, in part out of frustrations with the Times' bureaucratic ways.
Working with editor Ben Bradlee, he began raising the Post's reputation for political reporting, which was boosted further by its Watergate coverage in the 1970s.
Broder was unlike star reporters who carefully guarded their sources and tips. Balz, his longtime Post colleague, said Broder "was the most generous colleague any of us has ever worked with."
Broder's appetite for working long hours and weekends was legendary. Balz recalled a nighttime presidential debate in the 1990s in which Broder wrote "a perfectly fine" analysis on deadline, then completely reworked it in the 45 minutes before the next edition's deadline. He then went to his hotel room and wrote a separate column on the debate.
Young editors who grew up revering Broder's work sometimes found themselves in the unnerving role of being his editor. Broder typically accepted their suggestions with a breezy grace, urging them to trust their instincts. He sometimes startled copy editors by thanking them for improving his articles.