by Bob Edwards
David Broder died this past Wednesday at age 81 in Arlington, Virginia. A Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for the Washington Post, David was the first interview guest when our satellite radio program debuted on October 4, 2004. He gave The Bob Edwards Show instant credibility. Our conversations continued each week until David became ill in December.
He was tall and slim and had amazing posture. David Broder didn’t slouch or bend over like some of us of a certain height and age—he sat straight and walked tall. I mention that because he wrote as straight as he stood. He was a journalist of the old school, incapable of purple prose or leaving political fingerprints on his copy. One reporter called him “relentlessly centrist.” In the conversations we had each week, I’d try to provoke him into being a bit more partisan. He knew exactly what I was doing and never took the bait. Maybe the most remarkable thing about David is that he covered politics for nearly 60 years and never became a cynic. And he was from Chicago!
When I lost my job as host of NPR’s Morning Edition, David gave me a very public boost—writing a whole column about how much he liked my minimalist interviewing style. He was kind in other ways, inviting me to be his guest at Washington’s annual Gridiron Dinner where he and other journalsts performed musical skits about national politics. He also took me to a ballgame and stayed in his seat until the last out. Hardly anyone does that at a Washington Nationals game.
David believed a lot of political reporters tried to emulate Theodore H. White and get so far inside a campaign that they’d forget elections are decided by voters. David never relied exclusively on a candidate’s national staff. He consulted the Democratic and Republican party chairmen in all 50 states. He talked to voters at the factory gates and in the coffee shops. He knocked on the doors of people’s homes to interview individual voters about political candidates. “The dean of the Washington press corps” was not an inside-the-beltway type at all. He logged more than 100,000 miles each year in pursuit of stories. He vacationed in Michigan and was a lifelong Cubs fan.
Sadly watching the deterioration of the American newspaper business, David had always embraced the newer media. He was the most frequent guest panelist in the history of NBC’s “Meet the Press. In 2004, when we asked David to join us in the new field of satellite radio, he didn’t hesitate. Just four weeks ago he wrote about Egypt on his Facebook page.
The obituaries give David the credit he’s due for spotting new young political talent, for listening to political science professors ignored by most reporters, and for making early and accurate political forecasts. But David knew he wasn’t perfect. In his last column of each year, he used to list everything he got wrong that year. Who else in Washington admits mistakes?