Remembering longtime NewsHour political analyst Mark Shields

Mark Shields, a syndicated columnist and commentator, was a fixture on the NewsHour for 33 years, providing insights into our nation's politics each Friday night before his retirement in December 2020. He died on Saturday at the age of 85. His daughter Amy Doyle, and his longtime sparring partner, New York Times columnist David Brooks, join Judy Woodruff to remember his life and legacy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we want to devotee the rest of the program to the memory of our dear friend and longtime "NewsHour" colleague Mark Shields, who passed away this weekend at the age of 85.

    Jim Lehrer, Co-Founder and Former Anchor, "PBS NewsHour": Finally tonight, some Friday night conversation and analysis with and from Gergen and Shields.

    Shields and Gigot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    For 33 years, Mark Shields brought his decades of political expertise, unapologetic liberal views, and quick Irish wit to our airwaves, providing critical context and perspective to some of the most historic moments in American politics, impeachments.

    Mark Shields, Former "PBS NewsHour" Analyst: The attitude in the country remains that Bill Clinton lied. They don't him to leave.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    War.

  • Mark Shields:

    War should not be the first resort. It has to be the last resort.

    He lit it up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    White House firsts.

  • Mark Shields:

    This is a person of enormous talent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the 2020 election.

  • Mark Shields:

    Donald Trump is going out as a sore loser.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A native of Weymouth, Massachusetts and Red Sox die-hard, Mark graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1959 and, for the next two years, served in the Marine Corps.

    He cut his teeth in Democratic politics on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, working for his political hero, Robert Kennedy, in '68, Edmund Muskie in '72, and Mo Udall four years later. He channeled all of those lessons into a column.

  • Jim Lehrer:

    As seen by the Gergen-Shields 1988 politics observation team.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as a guest on "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," starting weekly during the 1988 presidential election.

    There from the beginning, his wife of 55 years, Anne Shields.

    Anne Shields, Wife of Mark Shields: Whenever there was big political news, they would call Mark. And it just kind of migrated eventually to a Friday night regular venue.

    Robert MacNeil, Former Anchor, "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour": It's the absolute authenticity of the guy.

    Mr. Shields…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To our co-founder Robin MacNeil, Mark embodied the goal of the program.

  • Robert MacNeil:

    Jim Lehrer and I set out to say, hey, talking heads are some of the most valuable ways human beings communicate, and why not make the most of it and get the best talking heads we can?

    And so Mark fitted perfectly into that.

  • Mark Shields:

    David is wrong in this one instance. And it's the first time tonight.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He challenged his conservative counterparts.

    David Gergen, Former "NewsHour" Commentator: My favorite moments in television have been Friday nights with Mark Shields.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Gergen was his first sparring partner, sharing the desk with Mark for six years.

    What is it about him that you think makes him different?

  • David Gergen:

    He knows a heck of a lot more about politics than I do. But he had a humility about him, as well as that Irish wit, that just made him a great partner.

    Judy, something else in television, as you know, it can be a highly competitive field. And often you may be paired with somebody who you can't quite trust. You never know when they're going to get — you're going to get a knife in the back. I always knew with Mark I could totally trust him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There were heated moments.

  • David Brooks:

    Mark and I went at it last week because we passionately disagree.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Like during the war in Iraq.

  • Mark Shields:

    What are we going to do afterwards? Who's going to be with us? Are going to be the first Western, Christian, pro-Israeli occupying force, military occupying force of an Arab nation in that region?

  • Jim Lehrer:

    There's about 12 questions there, David.

  • David Brooks:

    I'd say they're all irrelevant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Still, he always kept it fun.

    Mark, they spent three hours talking. So what do we assume has taken place here?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, we assume, I think, first of all, Judy, that this week will be a yawn.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    The past Democratic…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we can all go home.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean…

  • David Gergen:

    That's right. We're looking for airplane tickets this afternoon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're not supposed to say that, Mark.

    And stayed civil, whether with us at the "NewsHour" or at CNN's "Capital Gang," where he debated the late Robert Novak, alongside a good friend, my husband, Al Hunt.

  • Al Hunt, Journalist:

    He's interested in a lot of different things, but those things which he's really interested in, politics and family and faith and sports, he gets deeply engaged. He's not a passive observer.

    We don't need passive observers for things that matter. Sports matter, Judy.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is "The Doubleheader."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That love of sports even inspired a Shields and Brooks spinoff.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It was in the newsroom, very casual, no scripts, no pre-interviews, no notes. They both just sat down, and we riffed.

    This is where we talk about the sport of politics and politics of sport.

  • David Brooks:

    Nothing off the record.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    He could also drop the velvet hammer on just about anything, not just politics.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's typical of you. You like everything except American. I like American sports, basketball.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Through the decades, he guided us through elections and presidencies, always with an enduring optimism about public service.

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't know, in a nation as big and brawling, this great continent which we occupy, and diverse as ours, how we would resolve our differences, except through the commitment, the passion, the intelligence, the courage of those who are willing to practice the political process and achieve compromise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he was beloved in the newsroom for his genuine and cheerful spirit, big heart, and one-liners.

  • Mark Shields:

    And he caved like a $2 suitcase.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark will be missed by our entire "NewsHour" family, by his wife, Anne, daughter Amy Doyle, son-in-law Christo, grandchildren Jack and Frances, and also, I know, by all of you.

    Mark Shields was 85 years old.

    Here with more remembrances of Mark are two people who knew him well, his daughter, Amy Doyle, and David Brooks of The New York Times, who was Mark's sparring partner here on Friday nights for nearly 20 years.

    And it means so much to have both of you here with us tonight to think about, to talk about Mark Shields.

    Amy, I knew him. I was lucky to know your family for, what, 40 years.

    Amy Doyle, Daughter of Mark Shields: My whole life.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Your whole life.

    Your dad, we knew — we knew the dad, the Mark Shields the public doesn't know. Talk about who that Mark was.

  • Amy Doyle:

    The public?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The private?

  • Amy Doyle:

    The private. OK.

    The private. Yes, I mean, he was — well, he's very similar. That's actually the most interesting thing, I think, that his — who he was on television and who he was, who Amy mentioned, walking around the office, he's the same person.

    He was a very warm, loving, hilarious, charming person. And he would make — I mean, my mom — he always made us laugh. He was very — he loved games. He loved playing — as Al mentioned, he loved sports. He — but he made up games. I mean, my kids joke that he would make up games just to like drive them home from his house.

    And, sometimes, he would turn the games a little bit towards himself, where he might win more frequently than lose, but yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He also — I mean, it was clear he was somebody who loved politics. He loved politicians.

  • Amy Doyle:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you think that came from?

  • Amy Doyle:

    I think it came from his parents.

    I mean, his parents, and they really — they really believed in politics as a way to solve problems. They believed in public service. I mean, I think my grandfather — I never met him, but — my dad's father, but he was on the school board. He worked at like a paper company, not blue paper, but he…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Doyle:

    He — I think he grew up knowing that that was very important.

    And I think it became a love of his very early on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he didn't — he didn't get discouraged.

    I mean, surely in the last few years, it was different, but over all the years of watching the ups and downs of American politics…

  • Amy Doyle:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … he maintained that optimism, didn't he?

  • Amy Doyle:

    That is what was so amazing, truthfully.

    And I still think it's amazing now, because I think people my age actually are a lot more disillusioned now, unfortunately, because it's been a rough past six years of politics. There's been some serious ups and downs, and people are so partisan and separate.

    And I think that's what people loved about my dad and David's interactions, and my dad and David Gergen's interactions and all through everything you have done on the show forever, is that there was real conversation and real debate, but it wasn't ugly, and it wasn't partisan. And it wasn't like, I can't like you because you're a Republican.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, you are joining us tonight from Ireland. And we are grateful for that.

    Tell us what you're thinking right now.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there was a lot of Ireland in Mark, the warmth, the complete lack of pretension, always rooting for the underdog.

    I'm really struck by the outpouring of warmth that people have, especially since he died. Just the reaction has just been overwhelming to me and I'm sure to a lot of people. People just responded well to him, because they loved and they got the sense of his own personal warmth and generosity.

    I think the thing that strikes me is how much he formed all of those of us who worked around him. And I remember, one time, we had not seen footage of Katrina. We happened to be on there live. And we saw footage, Mark and I, for the first time.

    And Mark reacted with just astonishment that this was America. And through that lesson and through 20 years of lessons, he taught me not to just think with my head, not to just be a pundit through my head or through some party position, but to let your heart be bare and to react with your heart with the — with the moral emotions you feel.

    And that was how he improved us all and how he lifted us all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, when he retired from the "NewsHour" at the end of 2020, I remember you said that he represented the best of American liberalism.

    What did you mean by that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, he grew up at a time when liberalism was really expanding opportunity successfully, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act. He revered Bobby Kennedy, thought he would have been the best president of his lifetime.

    And so it was a moment of confidence, a moment of confidence in what government can do. And Mark never lost that confidence. And, at times in the last few days, I have heard notes that Mark was part of a generation that we haven't — we're not going to see the likes of again.

    But when I spoke to him about the time of his retirement, he rejected that. He said he's incredibly — he was incredibly optimistic for America. There's a lot of talent. There's a lot of moral passion, that people want to do good for the country. And so he really admired politicians who were willing to lose, willing to be humiliated.

    He loved Mo Udall. He loved Sargent Shriver, so many of these politicians who were just big and ambitious in their dreams for what politics could do to improve the lives of the poor or the unfortunate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What was it like to debate him or to sit next to him and have supposedly different views on Friday nights?

  • David Brooks:

    We started out with very different views.

    And in that 2002 clip of me debating him about the Iraq War, what a punk guy I was. What a jerk.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    But, yes, he improved me, as I said.

    And so it was — it was fun. He was prepared every time. He had those blue pages. And he was taking notes.

    Here's us at our most sober.

    And he came to play every single time. And he had the depth of background knowledge of American history, of political history that he just brought to bear.

    And I — frankly, I think one of the things I liked about doing it with him, it wasn't a debate. It was a discussion. And so we were not, like, trying to prove our party's point. We were just trying to figure out the world. And, as Donald Trump came along, we scarcely disagreed at all, to be honest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, where do you think he would, David — where would he find — dig into that well and find any optimism today? How would he — what do you think he'd be saying to us about trying to see the light out of this dark period?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, he loved the country. I think God gave him a golden heart. And I never saw him cross really. He never got crossed with me.

    He used to come to my — I remember my kid's bar mitzvah. And we were standing up, because that's what we do at the kiddush after that bar mitzvah. And he sat down on the floor and ate the — ate the food just sitting cross-legged on the floor. He just believed in America, believed in unpretentious America, had a little scorn for anybody who might have a hint of snobbery, but believed in regular Americans and all of us.

    And so that faith, I think, has never gone away and will never go away in the Mark we know is living somewhere.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How does that sound when you hear that, Amy?

  • Amy Doyle:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Doyle:

    You know, the word unpretentious came up.

    And my dad actually left on scribble-scrabbled papers some things he'd like for his funeral. And he mentioned at the very end he wanted to invite everyone back afterwards and make sure that we had unpretentious nibbles for everyone to eat.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Doyle:

    So…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Including, I'm told, pigs in the blanket.

  • Amy Doyle:

    Pigs in a blanket, yes, exactly. So, yes, it's very real. It's very true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you hope — what do you want his legacy to be for your children, his grandchildren, Jack and Frances, and for their generation?

  • Amy Doyle:

    Oh.

    Don't give up on politics. Don't give up on politicians. Believe that government can help people and can help people that are a lot less fortunate than we are. And that's probably the most important thing to my dad, I think, that, obviously, many people have said throughout the program.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, it's tempting just to be so sad right now.

    Can you give us just a little bit of light as we close out these days thinking about Mark?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I have sadness, but what a great life.

    I mean, we would all be fortunate to have a life. He — who was active in politics in a golden age of politics, was a commentator on politics during the Reagan, Clinton, up through Trump, just in consequential times in America, an amazing wife, a marvelous family, left a wide legacy, was beloved.

    What a great and tremendous life Mark Shields lived.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And countless friends who will miss him so much.

    David Brooks joining us tonight from Ireland, Mark Shields' home country, and Amy Shields Doyle, the daughter of Mark, thank you. Thank you so much.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Doyle:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we all have, of course, so many wonderful memories of Mark. There was nobody like him.

    All of us here — and I mean everyone here — loved him. And we will miss him deeply.

    Rest in peace, dear Mark.

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