On David Broder

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The first time I sat in the Washington Post's main newsroom conference room, David Broder quietly predicted that Barack Obama would be elected president.

It was early December 2007, about a week before my first day, and I'd been brought in to be introduced and to sit with the august politics team for the first time.

Everything about the room exuded authority and tradition, from the heavy wooden table to the posters, awards and memorabilia that lined the walls.

The final two of the four rounds of buyouts that diminished the ranks of more experienced reporters at the paper had yet to happen, and every senior head listened intently to what Broder, returned once again from the field, had to say.

At the time, it was not yet the conventional wisdom that Obama would win the presidency. It was not even the conventional wisdom that Obama -- and not John Edwards -- would win the Iowa caucuses, though a handful of reporters who had more or less moved to the state had felt confident since late summer of Obama's prospects there.

But Broder, a cautious and methodical reporter who'd been at The Post since before I was born, went out on that limb -- only to not have it turn out to be a limb at all. In fact, his early call was simply a product of his tremendous experience as a political reporter and deep love for talking to voters. He saw something afoot in the land, among the men and women with whom he spoke that year in diners and on benches (Ed O'Keefe did a lovely video series of Broder talking with voters in early primary states in '07 and '08), and in the candidate, and he was able to call it right and call it fast.

A lot has changed about the paper since then -- the old windowless conference room is now a sleek glass fishbowl, and a whole new generation of young reporters has packed the emptied desks -- but I am grateful to have had a chance to know Broder as a newsroom presence and emissary from a vanished world, as all elderly men and women are, while his feet were nonetheless firmly planted in the present, and not so far from mine.

I did not work with him closely, though I worked near his office, with its magnificent and terrifying accumulation of books and papers towering from floor to ceiling, and was pleased to of a late primary night have occasion to move his copy to the Web.

I could never reconcile the genial man I knew with the figure caricatured by other, much younger men I knew, some of whom skewered his role on the opinion pages before taking up a spot there themselves. He was one of the nicest people in the newsroom, and all I could figure was that he just never gave up hope that Washington could one day be nicer, too.

Here's Broder's take on the 2008 race, which would turn out to be the last presidential contest he covered:



Below, some takes from his colleagues at the paper:

From Dan Balz:

David Broder was the best political reporter of his or any other generation. He defined the beat as it had not been defined before. He spent a lifetime instructing succeeding generations of reporters - never by dictate but always by example.

He could be tough on politicians when they deserved it, but he was extraordinarily generous to his colleagues, particularly those new to the beat. He created a climate of collegiality that allowed everyone else to flourish, even while demonstrating from one campaign to the next the keenest insights and shrewdest judgments.

His secret was no secret at all. He was a tireless reporter. He wrote two columns a week for most of the past 40 years, but for almost that entire time he carried a full load as a reporter on The Post's national staff. As influential as he was as a columnist, he considered himself a reporter first and foremost.

He brought enormous integrity and humility to his craft. He wanted to know what others thought. He did not form his judgments and then go prove his point. He listened to people, no matter how grand or small their station, and took their scattered observations and spun them into the wisdom he dispensed in his writings.

He knew the details of everything but never lost sight of the big picture. In an era when political reporting has become more and more focused on minutiae, he kept his focus where it belonged - on the events and forces that move ordinary Americans and shape history. He loved the inside stuff, but he never mistook the whim of the moment for something real.

From Chris Cillizza:

the moment I will always remember about the Dean came in January 2008. I was in Iowa, trudging through the snow and ice to make my way to an event at the Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines and cursing the fact that the nation's first in the nation caucuses happened to be in a state where the temperature rarely got out of single digits in the winter.

I looked across the street and saw Broder -- at that point in his late 70s -- trudging toward the same place. We caught eyes and he yelled out "Hello, Chris" in an impossibly cheery voice.

That was David Broder. A man who had been to thousands of political events in Iowa but was excited about going to one more. A man whose curiosity and intensity about politics shined through to anyone who met him. A man who was never too big to listen to the thoughts of a junior reporter like me. A man whose kindness and open-mindedness sent the tone in the Post newsroom for decades.

I count myself lucky to have spent time talking to and working alongside David. He is the standard to which all political reporters aspire. And he will be missed.

From Joel Achenbach:

If there were a more decent and generous journalist in our business than David Broder, I've never met the person.

Broder ("David" to everyone in the hallway, the elevator, the campaign filing center, of course) remained the consummate collegial figure long after -- decades after -- earning the status of "dean of the Washington press corps." He had no pretense in him. He was a big-name pundit, but, most of all, he was a thing we used to call "a newspaper reporter." He knocked on doors to the very end of his career, interviewing voters, getting to know the local political organizers, never promoting himself to a rank too exalted to conduct shoe-leather reporting or pound out a deadline story in a cold gym in some remote corner of New Hampshire or Iowa.

Who am I kidding: He loved those gyms! And the tighter the deadline, the better.

From his former Post colleague Lou Cannon:

When I went to Washington in 1969, Broder was the gold standard of political reporters, as he would be for decades. What I didn't realize until I joined The Post in 1972 was that his influence on his colleagues was even greater than his influence on his readers. He saw to it that the newest and rawest members of the national staff, of which I was one, received top assignments that resulted in Page One stories, even if that meant that he took a back seat. At the 1972 Republican National Convention, he sat in a smoke-filled room for four hours, taking notes for me on an obscure issue that I had been covering so I could write the lead story that day. In putting himself out for his colleagues, Broder taught us that it was the story that mattered, not our egos. He inspired us to work as a team and lifted the confidence and quality of the entire newsroom.

Many years ago, he wrote a piece that began, "Let us be modest, ladies and gentlemen of the press, for we have much to be modest about." It impressed me - and it impressed my eldest son, Carl, even more. When Carl was at the Baltimore Sun, a young reporter complained that one of the prima donnas in our business had treated him shoddily. Carl told him to forget it and to think instead of the example set by Broder. "Don't ever think it's necessary to be puffed up," Carl advised the young reporter. When I was a teenager, he said, David Broder never came to our house and didn't ask me what I was doing or how I felt. He is the greatest of them all, and he never had a swelled head.

From Ruth Marcus:

When Fred Hiatt, the editor of the Washington Post editorial page, offered me the chance to write a weekly column, the first person I turned to for advice was Dave Broder.

I headed to Dave's glassed-in cubicle in the midst of the newsroom. Back in the days when I used to lead tours of The Post for my kids' pre-school classes, this site was always the biggest hit with the moms -- not because Broder was such a journalistic mega-star, which he was, but because the office was so astonishingly, dangerously piled with books and papers it cried out for "clean-up time."

As always, sitting amid the chaos, Dave had a minute. As always, Dave demurred at the thought that he had any wisdom to offer. As always, he did. "I can't tell you how to write a column but I can tell you what works for me," he said. First, he said, you can only have one big thought per 750-word column. Second, he said, he couldn't simply sit in his office and conjure up Big Thoughts. He had to go out and report.

That was classic Broder, indeed a reporter at heart.
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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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