Washington Writer Wows in Williamsburg

Lifetime Achievers

This is the fifth in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.

By Dave Astor
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Dave Astor

Dave Astor

Was Williamsburg, Virginia, a good locale for presenting Washington Post political columnist David Broder with the 1997 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award? Jonathan Nicholas thinks so.

“Williamsburg seemed the perfect place to recognize Broder because he was a man so deeply rooted in this country’s core values: decency, honesty, independence — and of course freedom of the press,” recalled Nicholas when reached last month.

Nicholas, who was NSNC president from 1996 to 1998 and a Portland Oregonian columnist from 1982 to 2008, added: “Broder was the quintessential columnist. Unlike so much contemporary punditry, his opinions were rooted in actual reporting — a craft he revered.

“Whenever he came to Oregon, the acknowledged ‘dean’ of our trade would do what you’d expect him to do — make a courtesy call on the local columnist (me) and chat with the local editorial board. Then he’d do what you’d never expect a national figure of such prominence to do — actually go out and walk a neighborhood, knock on doors, talk to people. In Oregon. At night. In the rain.”

David Broder

David Broder

Indeed, Broder traveled more than 100,000 miles a year for his “shoe-leather” reporting and columnizing.

When accepting the NSNC award in Williamsburg (the tourist site that had been capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780), Broder said “there is nothing more gratifying than respect from one’s peers.”

The columnist, who appeared in about 300 newspapers at the peak of his career, did jokingly add that he once received an honor almost as important as the NSNC one — getting “traded” for the “Hagar the Horrible” comic.

Broder (1929-2011) recalled that the St. Paul Pioneer Press was an early subscriber to his column and wanted exclusivity in its geographic area – meaning the Washington Post Writers Group couldn’t let The Star Tribune of Minneapolis also run it.

But then the syndicate heard through the grapevine that St. Paul wanted the “Hagar” strip, so it suggested that Minneapolis be allowed to buy Broder’s column if St. Paul could get the comic. The newspapers agreed.

“It was a straight trade,” Broder told the NSNC audience with a smile. “No cash, no players to be named later. Until tonight, I thought that was the greatest honor you could have.”

Actually, the Illinois-born centrist also won another pretty major award: the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Before joining the Post, Broder worked for Congressional Quarterly, the now-defunct Washington Star and The New York Times. He was also an author and a frequent presence on TV, where he offered political thoughts buttressed by his extensive reporting – from D.C. to Oregon.

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Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair (New Jersey) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and authored the memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional.

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This piece first was published in the March 2016 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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