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Lesson Plans

Shields and Brooks on the politicization of American institutions

May 10, 2020

Full Lesson




Directions: Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. Follow along with the transcript here.


News summary: In the Friday NewsHour segment “Shields and Brooks”, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the latest political news, including the Department of Justice’s request to throw out the case against Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser. Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Russian diplomats. President Donald Trump has praised the decision to throw out the case and said the FBI is full of people acting in bad faith.

Shields and Brooks also discussed the politicization of American government institutions and how President Trump’s reelection ambition is driving his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Someday, we will get to the point where opening up seems to me a smart strategy. But I personally don’t see the evidence of that, looking at the data,” said Brooks, adding, “…Trump seems to be wildly premature in doing this. And, frankly, the American people seem to me a little premature. Over the last week, even as the health data continues to be terrible, people are loosening. The travel is up. Gathering is up.” More than 79,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 with more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of infection.


Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: What are the consequences of more politicized government institutions?
  2. What does the word politicization mean? *Read this New York Times article on the term politicization, if time allows, or this quote, if it doesn’t:

“Politicization is the last refuge of the scoundrel. To ‘politicize’ something — hurricanes, intelligence, science, football, gun violence — is to render it political in a way that distorts its true meaning. That, at least, seems to be the reasoning of those who use the term as an insult: We adhere to pristine, unadulterated facts and call for unity; they politicize those facts for partisan gain and divide us even more.”

3. How does the Michael Flynn case reflect growing politicization?

4. Why does David Brooks wish more of his fellow citizens would “try to hang in there a little longer” when it comes to loosening quarantine restrictions and getting back to normal?

5. How significant a role will the coronavirus pandemic play in the 2020 presidential election?

5. Media literacy: The “Shields and Brooks” segment has been running on NewsHour for many years. David Brooks takes a more conservative view while Mark Shields provides a more liberal view. How did their political perspectives play out during this conversation? Some people do not like ideological labels, such as liberalism or conservatism. How do you feel about using political labels such as these?

Additional links:

To check out NewsHour EXTRA’s Super Civics 2020 series, click here. For a choice of seven election-related lesson plans, click here.


For monthly updates containing teacher resources on Election 2020, click here. Sign up for short education highlights from the PBS NewsHour here.


If you are making plans for distance learning, take a look at our list of PBS resources that covers a variety of subjects for middle and high school students. 

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.