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David Broder: One of a Kind
Comments () | Published June 9, 2011


Mike Broder, youngest of his four sons, management consultant: He was our dad. But so much of who he was was wrapped up in what he did. He was genuinely interested in the subject matter of what he was doing, and he shared that enthusiasm around the house. The phone would ring and you never knew who it would be—a politician, labor leader or organizer, county chairman, chief of staff for so-and-so. That was normal, as was the ingestion of massive amounts of information—the number of papers and magazines and studies and Congressional Records coming into the house on a daily basis was remarkable.

George Broder, eldest son, public-affairs/government-relations consultant: My parents are Midwest and not flashy. We lived in Arlington; we didn’t live in Georgetown. We drove VWs. We bought a little sports car for Dave—we called our father Dave or Big Dave; we didn’t call him Dad—but really just so the brothers could have fun with it.

Stephen Hess, coauthor with Broder of The Republican Establishment: If he had a mentor as a political reporter, it was Alan Otten of the Wall Street Journal. David and Al, to me, were the two great political reporters of their time.

Haynes Johnson, a colleague at the Washington Star and later the Post: We covered stories across the country for more than 50 years. It all started at the Star. Dave came on two years after I joined the Star. From that point on, we became really close colleagues. Dave was the most decent guy in a profession filled with hotshots—people who were on the make, who loved celebrity. He was none of that. Not a fake, not a phony. He was modest. No one worked harder. No one cared about politics more—what it meant to the country.

Victor Gold, longtime journalist and political consultant: In 1961, a friend of mine from Alabama, Charlie Meriwether, had been appointed to the Export-Import Bank by President Kennedy. When Charlie got here, he was greeted by reports in the Post and elsewhere saying he was tied to the Klan. I knew this was not so. So I called an editor I knew at the Star and told him the story. I said, “I’ve talked Charlie into giving an interview with somebody to give his side of it.” And what I said was “Send over the fairest reporter you have.” He sent over David.

Jules Witcover, political reporter and columnist: He was one of the boys, except he was always a little more serious and didn’t engage in the horseplay as much as others, particularly under deadline. He was a straight arrow.

Walter Mears, former political reporter for the Associated Press: We were in Louisville at the end of a long day of travel with Barry Goldwater in 1964. We got in, we relaxed, we might have had something to eat and a couple of drinks. David and I went into the press room to do our stories. I was just kind of daydreaming and thinking about the day and staring at my typewriter.

Broder, who was both fast and good, cranked out his story for the next day’s paper, and then he looked at me and decided that I must have had a couple drinks too many. He took a carbon copy of his story, and without a word he just walked past where I was working and dropped it on my desk and then went back into the cocktail lounge.

I looked and saw what he’d done, and I kinda laughed. I had already figured out what I was going to write, so it caused me to get busy and get the thing cranked out. I wrote my story and made a carbon copy of it, and I put it together with David’s and took both copies back to the cocktail lounge where he was with the other guys. I dropped both of them on the table. I said, “Broder, I can write better drunk than you can sober.” He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. He said, “The sad thing is you’re probably right.”

Haynes Johnson: Dave had gone to the Times. A great loss to the Star, but they were offering him this golden opportunity to be the lead political reporter. He took it. It was a most unhappy experience. He was very bitter about the bureaucracy at the Times. He was used to an environment where you went out and did your thing without any impediments.

Ben Bradlee, former managing editor and then executive editor of the Washington Post: I had been a reporter for Newsweek in Washington, so I knew most of the reporters very well, and there was one person who was clearly, if not already, the lead man, the comer in the political field. So when I got in a position where I could hire a person, he was the first person I was after. I thought that if people heard that Broder had decided to quit the Times and go to the Post—no one had ever done that—they would sit up and take notice. I worked him over.

George Broder: I remember when he quit the New York Times to go to the Washington Post, even in my 10- or 11-year-old mind, I had some kind of understanding that that can’t be usual.

Haynes Johnson: I had created something for the Star called “The Mood of America” in 1964. I went around the country knocking on doors and writing these series. And when Dave came to the Post, we started together doing the same thing—knocking on doors all over the country. We kept expanding the process, and then we’d get teams of reporters to go with us. We would take a precinct where we knew what the voting patterns were. We had that record. We studied it. We talked to pollsters in advance. Then we would go out and interview from door to door in that precinct, asking everybody the same questions. It wasn’t a survey. We wanted them to talk.

David was just indefatigable at that. He loved it. That’s one of the treasures of my life, those times we spent together on those reports. And if I do say so, modesty aside, they were goddamned accurate.

When he read what we wrote, George McGovern, who thought he had a chance [to be elected President], knew he was going to lose early in the fall of ’72.

Dan Balz, Washington Post political reporter: He always wanted to know what voters thought the biggest problem was and how their own life was going and what they wanted to hear from the candidates. It was always Dave’s view that one of the values of the door-knocking, in addition to the insights you brought back, was a way to channel voters back at the candidates. He was treating people as an integral part of the process rather than a side part of the process.

Next: The Broder Style


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Posted at 10:33 AM/ET, 06/09/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles