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Mark Shields, TV Pundit Known for His Sharp Wit, Dies at 85


Mark Shields, a piercing analyst of America’s political virtues and failings, first as a Democratic marketing campaign strategist after which as a tv commentator who each delighted and rankled audiences for 4 many years together with his bluntly liberal views and sharply honed wit, died on Saturday at his residence in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 85.

His demise was announced on Twitter by Judy Woodruff, his longtime colleague on “PBS NewsHour.”

Politics loomed massive for Mr. Shields even when he was a boy. In 1948, when he was 11, his mother and father roused him at 5 a.m. so he may glimpse President Harry S. Truman as he was passing by Weymouth, the Massachusetts city south of Boston the place they lived. He recalled that “the first time I ever saw my mother cry was the night that Adlai Stevenson lost in 1952.”

A life immersed in politics started in earnest for him within the Nineteen Sixties, not lengthy after he had completed two years within the Marines. He began as a legislative assistant to Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin.

He then struck out on his personal as a political advisor to Democratic candidates; his first marketing campaign at the nationwide stage was Robert F. Kennedy’s ill-fated presidential race in 1968. Mr. Shields was in San Francisco when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. “I’ll go to my grave believing Robert Kennedy would have been the best president of my lifetime,” he advised The New York Times in 1993.

He had successes, like serving to John J. Gilligan turn into governor of Ohio in 1970 and Kevin H. White win re-election as mayor of Boston in 1975. But he was actually no stranger to defeat; he labored for males who vainly pursued nationwide workplace within the Seventies, amongst them Edmund S. Muskie, R. Sargent Shriver and Morris Ok. Udall.

“At one point,” Mr. Shields stated, “I held the N.C.A.A. indoor record for concession speeches written and delivered.”

As the Seventies ended, he selected a distinct path. Thus started a protracted profession that made him a fixture in American political journalism and punditry.

He began out as a Washington Post editorial author, however the inherent anonymity of the job discomfited him. He requested for, and bought, a weekly column.

Before lengthy, he set out on his personal. While he continued writing a column, which got here to be distributed every week by Creators Syndicate, it was on tv that he left his firmest imprint.

From 1988 till it was canceled in 2005, he was a moderator and panelist on “Capital Gang,” a weekly CNN discuss present that matched liberals like Mr. Shields with their conservative counterparts. He was additionally a panelist on one other weekly public affairs program, “Inside Washington,” seen on PBS and ABC till it resulted in 2013.

In 1985, he wrote “On the Campaign Trail,” a considerably irreverent look at the 1984 presidential race. Over the years he additionally taught programs on politics and the press at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

His longest stretch was as a commentator on “PBS NewsHour” from 1987 by 2020, when he determined at age 83 to finish his common gig. A self-described New Deal liberal, Mr. Shields was the counterpoint to a succession of conservative thinkers, together with William Safire, Paul Gigot, David Gergen and, for the final 19 years, David Brooks.

In a panegyric to his colleague, Mr. Brooks wrote in his New York Times column in December 2020 that “to this day Mark argues that politics is about looking for converts, not punishing heretics.”

Mr. Shields’s method was rumpled, his visage more and more jowly, his accent unmistakably New (*85*). He got here throughout, The Times noticed in 1993, as “just a guy who likes to argue about current events at the barbershop — the pundit next door.”

His calling card was a no-nonsense political sensibility, infused with audience-pleasing humor that punctured the dominant character trait of many an workplace holder: pomposity. Not surprisingly, his targets, archconservatives conspicuous amongst them, didn’t take kindly to his arrows. And he didn’t at all times adhere to fashionable requirements of correctness.

Of President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Shields stated dismissively that “the toughest thing he’s ever done was to ask Republicans to vote for a tax cut.” The House Republican chief Kevin McCarthy was “an invertebrate”; Senator Lindsey Graham made Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s loyal sidekick, “look like an independent spirit.” In each main events, he stated, too many are troubled with “the Rolex gene” — making them money-hungry caterers to the rich.

Asked in a 2013 C-SPAN interview which presidents he admired, he cited Gerald R. Ford, a Republican who took workplace in 1974 within the wake of the Watergate scandal. Ford, he stated, was “the most emotionally healthy.”

“Not that the others were basket cases,” he stated, however “they get that bug, and as the late and very great Mo Udall, who sought that office, once put it, the only known cure for the presidential virus is embalming fluid.”

Politics, he maintained, was “a contact sport, a question of accepting an elbow or two,” and dropping was “the original American sin.”

“People come up with very creative excuses why they can’t be with you when you’re losing,” he stated. “Like ‘my nephew is graduating from driving school,’ and ‘I’d love to be with you but we had a family appointment at the taxidermist.’”

Still, for all their foibles, he had an abiding admiration for politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, merely for coming into the world.

“When you dare to run for public office, everyone you ever sat next to in high school homeroom or double-dated with or car-pooled with knows whether you won or, more likely, lost,” he stated. “The political candidate dares to risk the public rejection that most of us will go to any length to avoid.”

Mark Stephen Shields was born in Weymouth on May 25, 1937, one in all 4 kids of William Shields, a paper salesman concerned in native politics, and Mary (Fallon) Shields, who taught college till she married.

“In my Irish American Massachusetts family, you were born a Democrat and baptized a Catholic,” Mr. Shields wrote in 2009. “If your luck held out, you were also brought up to be a Boston Red Sox fan.”

He attended colleges in Weymouth after which the University of Notre Dame, the place he majored in philosophy and graduated in 1959. With navy conscription looming, he selected in 1960 to enlist within the Marines, rising in 1962 as a lance corporal. He realized quite a bit in these two years, he stated, together with ideas of management encapsulated in a Marine custom of officers not being fed till their subordinates had been.

“Would not our country be a more just and human place,” he wrote in 2010, “if the brass of Wall Street and Washington and executive suites believed that ‘officers eat last’?”

As he set out on his profession in politics, he met Anne Hudson, a lawyer and federal company administrator. They had been married in 1966. Mr. Shields, who lived in Chevy Chase, Md., is survived by his spouse; their daughter, Amy Shields Doyle, a tv producer; and two grandchildren.

There had been bumps alongside the highway, together with a interval of extreme ingesting. “If I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was probably a pretty good imitation of one,” he advised C-SPAN, including: “I have not had a drink since May 15, 1974. It took me that long to find out that God made whiskey so the Irish and the Indians wouldn’t run the world.”

Some of his happiest moments, he stated, had been when he labored on political campaigns: “You think you are going to make a difference that’s going to be better for the country, and especially for widows and orphans and people who don’t even know your name and never will know your name. Boy, that’s probably as good as it gets.”





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