Why We Should All Be Watching Shields and Brooks

Why We Should All Be Watching Shields and Brooks

I’ve stated in my bio on this site that I’m a big fan of the weekly political wrap on the PBS News Hour with Mark Shields and David Brooks. It happens each Friday during the last 12 minutes of the nightly News Hour broadcast, usually hosted by News Hour co-anchor Judy Woodruff, and it’s my favorite place to get perspective on political happenings. I love it so much that I made fan pages on facebook for both Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff (David Brooks already had one when I made them a few years back).

Here’s the most recent episode, which I enjoyed a great deal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ic8FuBobAB4.

I believe the show is valuable not only for its content but also for the example it sets for how to go about discussing and resolving politics with people who have opposing views. Mark Shields tends to sit more towards the Democratic side of issues and David Brooks more towards the Republican side, though neither are super far from the center. Judy Woodruff doesn’t take a position herself, but alternately asks insightful questions to each and guides the discussion.

Why does the trio work so well, avoiding the pitfalls that so many other political shows fall into? The underlying principle seems to be that of mutual respect among all three members of the team, and you can see that manifest itself in several different ways.

If Mark disagrees with something David is saying or David disagrees with Mark, neither will ever interrupt the other, they always let each other finish their statement fully. This says to the other and to the viewer at home “I respect what has been said and there’s clearly a case for it, but here’s why I think differently.” And they’ll use words just like those very often to preface their disagreements. There’s never an indication that the disagreement arises because the other has a bad intention or is ignorant, whereas in other shows pitting people with different views against each other that is often the underlying message.

Another feature of the discussions between Shields and Brooks is that they’ll make as much effort to agree with each other as to disagree. It’s not like they’re compromising, they just go out of their way to acknowledge how much ground they actually share, even if they disagree in important details.

Neither attempts to appeal to personal distinctions or experience as a trump card to validate their own opinions. It helps that neither comes out of an Ivy League education, and while David Brooks has risen to more prominence than Mark Shields has recently, you’d never know it by watching them discuss issues together with Woodruff on the show. It probably also helps that Brooks’ appearance on the show pre-dates his position as a columnist at the New York Times.

As a funny side note that has relevance, I went and saw Brooks speak at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan a few years ago and had him sign a copy of his book for me. I asked him to write something jokingly snarky about Mark Shields in it, but he declined, joking back “it’ll probably come back to haunt me.”

There are times when Mark or David are unavailable for the show, and they’ll usually bring on Ruth Marcus (for Mark) or Michael Gerson (for David) as a substitute, each from the Washington Post. While the substitutes are clearly trying to be civil, you can see immediately that they don’t have the same groundwork of mutual respect and deference found in Shields and Brooks, and it starts to feel too much like other political talking heads shows.

Go watch Shields and Brooks on the News Hour. You can see all episodes at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/tag/shields-and-brooks/ or on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgawtcOBBjr_MGoYnbaekpOstJg59R09g. You can also get the segments as a podcast here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/pbs-newshour-shields-brooks/id114345000?mt=2.

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Tom Plewe

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