The late David Broder, a political columnist and the long-time chief political editor for The Washington Post, at the end of each year used to review his 52 plus columns, and then share with his readers his self-critique.
He highlighted columns where his crystal ball was clairvoyant as well as those that badly missed the mark. He enjoyed popping the balloon of “conventional wisdom” when it was wrong and he was correct. His goal was to provide insight, perspective, knowledge; and, hopefully give his reader the critical information one needs to make an informed decision, such as voting for a president.
He wanted to inform and educate. He was always fair and balanced, did his homework and kept his personal views out of the column. He surely would have subscribed to the trademark phrase of TV detective Jack Webb: “Just the facts, mam’, just the facts.”
Broder gave voice to the voiceless and a certain of amount of power to the powerless. They don’t come any better than David Broder. What follows is inspired by his excellent example.
1) Being first. It’s always gratifying when something one writes in a column is actually news worthy and note worthy. Topping the list was a column that appeared in late January that was one of the first in print to expose the American Redoubt movement as the reincarnation of the old posse comitatus gang cloaked in a toga of slightly more respectability.
The column came to the attention of Kevin Sullivan, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter for the Washington Post who later in the year wrote several insightful articles. The column’s purpose was to flag to Idahoans a new group of extremists who could quickly remind the rest of the world that Idaho was once a haven for the racist, white supremist neo-Nazi movement.
Other columns revealing unique or breaking news included the rediscovery and re-publication of three lost novels written by Syd Duncombe, a much beloved political science instructor at the University of Idaho; a couple of columns endorsing Robyn Brody for a vacancy on the Idaho Supreme; a column showing that contrary to the myth that congressmen never go back to Pocatello, slightly more than half of Idaho’s congressmen had; and, a couple columns addressing solutions to the on-going issue of the declining salmon and steelhead runs on the Snake River.
2) Columns off the mark. Like almost every other political pundit I missed the significance of the chord of anger and frustration, especially across the white middle class, regardless of income or education, that Trump tapped. He was the only true outsider in the race and almost half of all voters wanted a non-politician.
Despite a column explaining why all polls were flawed, I still was sufficiently taken in by the Clinton p.r. machine that I missed the truly significant shift of the ground underfoot. There must have been at least a dozen columns ranting about Trump and the danger he could lead us into. Quite simply, I blew it.
3) Columns requiring corrections or apologies. Its always hard to admit a mistake, but I made two major ones for which I want to apologize. First apology goes to University of Idaho President Chuck Staben. I listened to only one side - those critical of his decision on rejoining the Big Sky Conference in football. It was just plain wrong for me to tell him to pack his bags.
I made two major journalistic blunders, the second being a failure not to have even talked to him to get his side of the story. I’m now convinced he’s doing a solid job. I hope he accepts the mea culpa.
I made the same mistake with Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas in part because I believe he was mislead by Governor Otter on the creation of a private/public partnership to establish a so-called Idaho Medical school in Nampa. So, apologies to Dr. Vailas, also.
In reviewing the columns I owe an apology to the reader for failure to always be balanced and fair. I recognized an element of cynicism crept into the columns, that at times I was downright snarkey. The column is well received by all the state’s political cognoscenti to whom I have an obligation to provide an informed and interesting perspective they might otherwise not see.
You have my promise to do better in 2017.