The death of the Washington Post‘s David Broder came as a shock to many even remotely connected with journalism in Washington, or indeed across the country. His last column appeared in print only a little more than a month ago. There had been no public clue as to his illness (complications from diabetes). He was 81.
I met him a couple of times and regularly read his column. He was a liberal but I don’t mean that as a criticism. Broder really did represent the ideal vision that some liberals do have of themselves. He was diligent and open minded and did see different sides of an issue. He knew that he wasn’t already in full possession of the truth. As the Post‘s obit emphasized, he was also an excellent listener. That may seem like faint praise but how rarely do we encounter it!
One time — and just that once — I was invited to a party at the inner sanctum. I mean the Georgetown house of Katharine Graham, then the publisher of the Washington Post. She was holding a party for Charlie Peters, the owner of the Washington Monthly, where I had worked. Elsewhere, I had also published a few critical things about the Washington Post. Today I don’t even want to look at those pieces because they seemed excessive even at the time. I don’t think those things today.
So I suspected, when I entered Mrs. Graham’s establishment, that not everyone was thrilled to see me. But one journalist did approach me, and that was David Broder. It was shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan — perhaps in late November, 1980. He knew I was a conservative, and therefore represented a point of view he rarely encountered in the newsroom.
What did I think would happen now that Reagan was coming to Washington? Broder asked. The Post at that time was mounting a full court press against the incoming President. Basically I think they accepted the leftist argument that he was a warmonger.
I told Broder that I didn’t think much would happen, because the powers-that-be in the city were dead set against it. Of course I was wrong about that. Reagan did get things done. In his low keyed way he had a big influence. And I was far too pessimistic.
Broder listened carefully. It’s always flattering to be listened to, but he impressed me with his diligence, and with his courtesy. The same qualities were evident in his newspaper column.
I would say that Broder is one liberal whom the liberals really will miss. Because they will find it very difficult to find anyone else with those same qualities, combining hard work, fairness and open-mindedness.
Journalism is already in a state of such transition that its future cannot easily be foreseen. Broder’s death, coming at such a moment, may in retrospect be seen as its apt representation historically. The trade of journalism has lost one of its best people.