To Murrey Marder, asking probing questions is at the core of journalism. In more than a half century as a reporter he has counted far more on his questioning ability than on exclusive sources to obtain information.
Born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1919, the Depression dominated his school years, ruled out college, and at 17, just out of high school, he became a copy boy at the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. That gave him four years of valuable apprenticeship before becoming a cub reporter at 21. American entry into WWII was imminent when Marder accepted a Marine Corps promise of combat correspondent assignments to young reporters. He was in boot camp a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
That began a defining experience for Marder in the use and limitations of military power. He participated in four combat operations, in the Solomon Islands and on Guam, writing when possible. After two years in the Pacific, at war’s end he was in charge of the Marine Corps news desk in Washington.
Marder joined The Washington Post in 1946. By 1949 his reporting won him a Nieman Fellowship, That became the most valuable education opportunity in his life, giving him the confidence to challenge conventional wisdom in his 39-year career at the Post. Early on he challenged the claims of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis) and contributed to the televised Army-McCarthy collision and McCarthy’s ultimate censure.
In 1957 Marder in London opened the first bureau of The Washington Post Foreign Service which rapidly expanded and combined with the Los Angeles Times’ foreign bureaus to become a global news syndicate.
In the Lyndon B. Johnson administration Marder wrote that a "credibility gap" was endangering U.S. policy because of shifting explanations for U.S. military operations, especially in the Vietnam war. That term has become imbedded in America’s political vocabulary.
From the Eisenhower administration to the Carter administration Marder accompanied secretaries of state, and sometimes presidents, to diplomatic conferences and summit meetings around the world.
Marder retired from the Post in 1985. In 1996, after the death of his wife, Frances, he decided to give the bulk of their resources, in Washington Post stock, to Harvard to launch the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Project. That gave him opportunity to participate in developing it.