Inside Media: Mark Shields

July 19, 2009

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

Long before he covered candidates on the campaign trail, Mark Shields helped managed their campaigns, including Robert F. Kennedy’s ill-fated bid for president in 1968.

But it’s hard to say which came first — Shields’s love for politics or his love for journalism.

The longtime columnist grew up absorbing five newspapers a day, and his parents often discussed current events and public affairs.

"At the age of seven or eight, I guess I knew all then-96 U.S. senators," he joked.

It was politics that led him to Washington in the 1960s. Shields wrote speeches for Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire and later went to work for Kennedy and Sen. Edmund Muskie, among others. He joined The Washington Post in 1979 and began writing a syndicated column the following year.

The transition was effortless for the 30-year news veteran, who stressed that newspapers offer readers “the whole world” and that the Internet, while a miracle, is no substitute.

The prospect of the demise of newspapers troubles him.

"If I were left to my own devices, I’d probably be very deep into politics and sports. I get a newspaper, and there are stories outside of my natural inclination that I learn about. It forces me to be a better, more responsible and informed citizen," Shields said.

While newspapers face uncertainty, with politics, it’s business as usual.

A regular pundit on "Inside Washington" and "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Shields suggested that as Republicans search for their next leader, there are a few names to avoid, such as Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh.

Shields also talked about the Twitter revolution and the partisan yelling matches found on cable news.

Of the latter, he pointed to his 22 years as a political analyst for "The NewsHour."

"I have been very blessed," Shields said. Regardless of the opposing viewpoint, "we have a very civilized discussion."

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