Mark Shields Kept His TV Debates Civil

Commentator appeared on 'PBS NewsHour' for 33 years
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2022 5:45 PM CDT
Mark Shields Kept His TV Debates Civil
Mark Shields speaks during a memorial service for Sen. William Proxmire in 2006 at the National Cathedral in Washington.   (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Mark Shields, who affably debated fellow political pundits on TV for decades—slipping in cutting jabs along the way—has died. He was 85 and died at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, of kidney failure, the New York Times reports. Shields, who labeled himself a New Deal liberal, was a fixture on CNN and PBS as a counterpart to commentators including William Safire, Paul Gigot, and David Brooks. PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff tweeted, per NPR, that Shields "wowed us with his encyclopedic knowledge of American politics, his sense of humor and mainly his big heart."

After serving in the Marines, Shields started in politics as an aide to Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. He then became a consultant to Democratic candidates in local races, going national as an organizer for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. "I'll go to my grave believing Robert Kennedy would have been the best president of my lifetime," he once told the Times. He worked for winning candidates, but he also worked for a series of presidential also-rans, including Edmund Muskie, Sargent Shriver, and Morris Udall. "At one point, I held the NCAA indoor record for concession speeches written and delivered," Shields said.

He appeared on CNN's weekly Capital Gang and Inside Washington, which ran on CNN and ABC. Shields also was a columnist. His NewsHour run lasted 33 years, until 2020, 19 of them with Brooks. Although he considered politics "a contact sport," the Times wrote in 1993 that Shields comes across as "just a guy who likes to argue about current events at the barbershop—the pundit next door." Allegheny College honored him and Brooks with an award for "civility in public life," per the Washington Post. In his acceptance speech, Shields said he tried to remember "in every discussion that the person on the other side probably loves their country as much as you love our country." (More obituary stories.)

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