Shields was well known for his “encyclopedic knowledge of American politics, his sense of humor and mainly his big heart,” wrote Judy Woodruff, the anchor and managing editor of NewsHour, in a tweet announcing his death.
Shields was a liberal political commentator on the broadcast for 33 years, through six presidential administrations, until he decided to retire in 2020.
He was also was a regular presence on CNN for decades, primarily as co-host of the weekly panel discussion show “Capital Gang” from 1988 until 2005, where he challenged conservative co-hosts like Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan and Kate O’Beirne.
“We at CNN were so fortunate to work with such a kind, brilliant, funny man who was the same person to the powerful politicians as he was to youngest staffer on our team,” said Rick Davis, a former executive vice president at CNN who earlier was executive producer of “Capital Gang.” “Shields was “as good as a man as you will meet in this business,” he added.
Shields, originally from Weymouth, Massachusetts, graduated from the University of Notre Dame before serving in the United States Marine Corps. He worked for several local and national Democratic political campaigns, including Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 run for president, and gained first-hand experience that he later shared with readers and viewers.
In 1979 he became a columnist for The Washington Post, and before long the column was carried nationally by Creators Syndicate.
“I believe in politics,” Shields wrote for NPR’s “This I Believe” series in 2006, expressing both optimism about peaceful conflict resolution and pragmatism about the need for compromise. He also read the essay aloud on Morning Edition.
“At their worst, politicians — like the rest of us — can be petty, venal and self-centered,” he wrote. “But I believe politics, at its best, can help to make ours a world where the powerful are truly more just and the poor are more secure.”
Shields brought that perspective to television in 1988, when he was appointed to his PBS analysis post.One partner in those regular segments was David Gergen, the veteran presidential adviser.
Gergen wrote Saturday that Shields “was one of the best partners in the history of television — thoughtful, witty, always a champion of the little guy. He brought out the best in everyone he touched.”
He also matched wits with Paul Gigot, editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal, and columnist David Brooks of The New York Times.
In a tweet Saturday, Brooks described Shields as “one of the finest and most beloved men I’ve never known,” appending a 2020 story he’d written with the headline “Mark Shields and the Best of American Liberalism.”
At the time of his retirement from the NewsHour, Shields, with his typical self-effacing humor, called his Friday evening discussions with Brooks “the most rewarding professional experience of my admittedly checkered career.”
“It’s been 33 wonderful years,” he said during his farewell telecast.
His televised conversations re’resented a more genial time in American politics and TV news, with an abundance of deep insights and thoughtful discussions rather than the barbs and insults often promoted today.
Shields died of kidney failure at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, NewsHour spokesman Nick Massella told NPR. His wife Anne was at his side, Woodruff wrote in her tweet.