Integrity Among Columnists: David S. Broder

Posted: Sep 12, 2006 12:00 AM

I have known syndicated columnist David S. Broder for a few years short of four decades. I was a source of his following the death of Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen and the subsequent leadership contest. He was very grateful for my head count. The only problem was mine showed Senator Hugh Scott (R-PA) losing the race for Minority Leader. Because of that Broder was very cautious in what he wrote about the race while his contemporaries had Scott elected. I fully expected an upset victory for Senator Roman L. Hruska (R-NE). He had been Dirksen's favorite and everyone knew that if Dirksen had lived through his fifth term it would have been his last and before that time he would have stepped down as Republican Leader and twisted arms for Hruska. But death only mid-way into that term interfered with such plans. I thought in Dirksen's memory the Senator from Nebraska would be elected. Indeed I was sure my Senator, who was quite conservative, would vote for Hruska. Following the vote he confided in me that he had voted for Scott.

After I had given Broder my bad count, based upon assumptions, I learned how to count votes. And from that day forward I never, ever made assumptions. Senator Gordon L. Allott (R-CO) taught me what you need to do to insure that you have the votes. First, you need to eyeball the Senator or Congressmen involved. Second, you need to have a colleague of the Member, who is on the side of your candidate but has not revealed where he stood, ask the Senator or Congressman. Third, you need to find someone in the state or district to ask the Member for whom he will be voting. Only then can you be sure.

In the race for Chairman of the Senate GOP Policy Committee Allott defeated Senator Robert P. Griffin (R-MI) by the exact number of votes of Senators who had been checked the three ways but one short of the Senators who had eyeballed Allott to say "I'll vote for you." The one vote was that of Senator Charles H. Percy (R-IL), who had told Allott face to face that he would vote for him but who would not give an answer to a colleague and who could not be verified back home. Allott assumed that Percy had not told him the truth and thus his vote count was on target.

But I digress. I sheepishly called Broder after having unintentionally misled him and apologized. He was very decent. And from that day forward, I have always viewed Broder as one who is able to distinguish his role as a columnist and his role as a crack political reporter. In his columns, Broder is a nondoctrinaire liberal. It is the reason I always read his column. It is not predictable. Generally liberal, yes, yet an open-mindedness uncharacteristic of most liberals. In his straight reporting I never found any liberal slant. I was searching for it. Perhaps he was so clever and I so dumb that I could not detect bias in his role as a reporter. And the reason I never miss one of his columns is because even when he is supporting liberal causes he does so because in his mind they work. He has never blindly followed the liberal line. He is not a leftist. The one and only time I was totally disappointed in him was the scathing column he wrote against my then boss, Senator Carl T. Curtis (R-NE), and in support of Senator Jacob K. Javits (R-NY), when the two ran against each other for the Chairmanship of the Senate GOP Conference. Broder suggested that my boss was intellectually inferior because he was a conservative. Javits was defeated with only 12 votes. I had told Broder that Curtis was going to win and by how much. By this time I had learned to count. Thus did I learn that Senator James L. Buckley (R-NY) confided to an operative in the New York Conservative Party that while he had given his word to Curtis he wished he could be released from his commitment. Subsequently he asked me to ask Curtis if he could switch. After discussing it with Curtis I told him no and figured that the column was probably a payback for Javits' having been a source.

I digress again. It is that over these now nearly four decades I have learned to respect David Broder even when I profoundly disagree with him. He is always informative, frequently insightful and has integrity.

That integrity was demonstrated again last week when Broder wrote a column on the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson affair. He pointed out that he himself had written very little about this supposed outing of Valerie Plame. "No one behaved well in the whole mess...not [Former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson, not [Scooter] Libby, not Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and not the reporters involved," Broder wrote in his column. "...Caution has been notably lacking in some of the press treatment of this subject-especially when it comes to Karl Rove. And it behooves us in the media to examine that behavior, not just sweep it under the rug...."

He then recounted the words of several journalists who had Rove indicted, tried and convicted without his being fingered by the Special Prosecutor or by anyone else for that matter. Who did the culprit turn out to be? Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is no conservative. All this time and Armitage never had the decency to come forward on his own. He had to be outed in a book.

After citing some of the outrageous statements made by liberals in the media, such as Joe Conason, who wrote the cover story for the Auust 2005 edition of American Prospect. In that publication Conason said, "Rove is a powerful bully. Fear of retribution has stifled those who might have revealed his secrets. He has enjoyed the imunity of a malefactor who could always claim, however implausibly, deniability-until now...." Broder concluded his column that "...these and other publications owe Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to learn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts."

If I were Karl Rove I wouldn't sit by my phone waiting for apologies from the American media, especially the savage television "reporters." But at least Rove, who has been more falsely maligned than any figure in my political memory, has the satisfaction to know that the dean of political journalists, David Broder, a man revered by young media upstarts, said he is owed an apology. It shows Broder's integrity. Something like that happens once in a political lifetime.