Mark Shields, columnist, legendary political campaign strategist and longtime contributor to PBS NewsHour, has died at the age of 85.
For 30 years, PBS viewers followed NewsHour Friday night to hear what Shields had to say about the week’s most pressing political issues. Mark brought a lifelong Washington experience to the conversation, drawing on his work on countless political campaigns that supported candidates from Robert F. Kennedy to Moe Udall to Sargent Shriver.
Facing a conservative counterpart – David Gergen, William Safire, Paul Gigot, Michael Gerson, David Brooks – Mark helped PBS NewsHour establish its reputation as a place where even the most contentious political issues could be discussed with respect and courtesy.
“He personified everything that is special about PBS NewsHour,” said anchor and CEO Judy Woodruff.
In fact, Mark was a founding member of our weekly political discussion with anchor Jim Lehrer. After joining the show for semi-regular talks during the 1988 presidential campaign season, Lehrer and the NewsHour team decided to make the segment a regular part of the program.
Mark grew up in Weymouth, Massachusetts, graduated from Notre Dame and volunteered for the Marines, where he served for two years. (Lehrer and Mark shared a bond as former Marines.) After the military, he turned his attention to politics, joining Sen. William Proxmire’s staff, and then continuing to contribute to a number of local and national campaigns. In 1979, he joined the Washington Post as an editorial writer and soon established a weekly column, which was eventually syndicated.
On television, Mark was a member of CNN’s Capitol Gang, a political talk show featuring Bob Novak, Pat Buchanan and Al Hunt, NewsHour anchor husband and editor-in-chief Judy Woodruff.
But the PBS audience knows him best from NewsHour, where he used his disarming wit and boundless political knowledge to discuss the week’s most important issues.
He «had a magical combination of talents: an unsurpassed knowledge of politics and a passion, joy and indomitable humor that shone through in all his work. He loved most politicians, but could spot a fake and was always bold in shouting injustice, Woodruff recalled.
And no matter how deeply he disagreed with his partner on the air, Mark always managed to keep things civil. After leaving the White House in Bush, which Mark often criticized, Michael Gerson said he had no idea what to expect when he occasionally joined the program. “But Mark did everything he could to show me kindness, even in the midst of disagreement. And it would be difficult to describe a political temperament that is more necessary in our time,” said Gerson, a nationally syndicated columnist for Norway Post.
Hari Sreenivasan said that every interaction he had with Shields was “one where I learned something. Sometimes it was his encyclopedic political knowledge, but more often than not it was a lesson in kindness. Whether it was his political film for the night or the producer or the camera person or the intern, he treated everyone with respect. “
Viewers became familiar with “his towering intellect, his sharp wit, his humanity by watching him on TV,” said chief correspondent Amna Nawaz. “But he was exactly the same person outside the camera. When no one saw. When it mattered most.”
Every time he was in the building, you could find him by following the sound of laughter, Nawaz said. “Whether he was in the makeup room, the hallway, or walking out of the studio – he always found a way to bring a smile to those around him,” she recalled. “Mark gave us so much – as a show, as an industry, as a nation. He made us better and smarter. But he gave each and every one of us who had the privilege of knowing and learning from him, an immense gift. I is him so grateful for that, Nawaz said.
Woodruff remembered the weekends he spent in New York with Shields and his wife, Anne, where they were often stopped – at restaurants, events or just walking down the street – by Mark’s admirers.
“No matter how busy we were, Mark always took time for them, was unfailingly kind and generous. He treated everyone with respect, Woodruff said.
He also had a certain kind of optimism about politics and where the country was headed, and believed in compromises, even through some of the most divisive moments in recent memory.
Image courtesy of Mark’s family.
“I do not know, in a nation so great and fighting, this great continent that we occupy, and diverse as ours, how we would resolve our differences, except through the commitment, passion, intelligence, courage of those who are willing to practice the political process and reach compromise, he told Woodruff in December 2020, during his last political segment.
That optimism is what people loved about him, his daughter, Amy Doyle, reminded Woodruff in a tribute to his father on June 20.
“I still think it’s amazing now, because I think people my age are actually much more disillusioned now, unfortunately, because it’s been tough the last six years of politics. There have been some serious ups and downs, and people are so biased and separate, she said. In the work he did on NewsHour “there was real conversation and real debate, but it was not ugly, and it was not biased. And it was not like I did not like you because you are a Republican. “
David Brooks, his longtime companion in Friday’s political segment, said that kind of warmth shaped everyone around him.
“He taught me not only to think with my head, not just to be an understanding person through my head or through some party position, but to let your heart be bare and to react with your heart with – with the moral feelings you feel. And that was how he improved us all and how he lifted us all, he told Woodruff.
Shields leaves behind his wife Anne, daughter Amy Doyle, son-in-law Christo and grandchildren Jack and Frances.