PBS’ Mark Shields discusses ‘interesting election’ in 2012 Minow Lecture


Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Mark Shields of PBS NewsHour laughs as professor emeritus Newton N. Minow introduces him at Tuesday’s Newton Minow lecture. Shields spoke to a full auditorium at the McCormick Tribune Center about his experiences covering the 2012 presidential race and the responsibilities of political journalists.

Jamie Lovegrove, Reporter

Acclaimed PBS NewsHour political commentator Mark Shields visited Northwestern on Tuesday to deliver the 2012 Minow Lecture in Communications.

Shields’ talk focused on his experience covering presidential campaigns, including the 2012 election and his opinions on how it has transpired so far.

His speech was filled with humorous anecdotes from his many years in Washington, D.C., ranging from Ronald Reagan’s use of “factoids” – information that Shields explained was “patently untrue” – to his affection for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his impressions from the governor’s Republican convention speech in August.

Shields commented on colleague Jim Lehrer and his recent performance as a presidential debate moderator.

“I think Jim Lehrer did the best job of moderating in the sense that he’s always felt, he’s always believed, he’s always argued that debates are not about journalists, they’re not about clever questions,” he said. “They are about the candidates.”

He noted Lehrer’s format “worked for Governor Romney, it did not work for President Obama,” and explained why he believed the night was unsuccessful for the President.

“It’s been an interesting campaign,” Shields said. “I think in trying to understand this election or American politics at any time we have to remember that our politics are different from those of any other place on the planet. We don’t have a multiplicity of political parties, we’ve only got two. There are millionaires who are Democrats, minimum wage workers who are Republicans, and each party has people of all faiths or no faith.”

The event attracted more than 160 people from throughout the NU, Evanston and Chicago communities to a packed McCormick Tribune Center Forum.

Weinberg freshman Ross Jordan said he was glad that his freshman seminar professor had asked his class to attend the lecture.

“Mark Shields is a really notable person and he knows what he’s talking about,” Jordan said. “He has so much experience in this area and so I think he has a good perspective on what is going on in the political world.”

Shields has been a weekly commentator on the PBS NewsHour since 1988. Outside of PBS, Shields has previously worked as an editorial writer for The Washington Post, and has taught political science courses at Georgetown University and the University of Pennsylvania. He was named the  2012 Newton Minow Visiting Professor by former Federal Communications Commission Chairman and NU Prof. Newton Minow.

Minow (BSJ ’49, Law ’50) and his wife Josephine Baskin Minow created the Minow Visiting Professorship in Communications at NU in 1981 as a way to bring established professionals in journalism to talk on campus.

After the lecture, Shields told The Daily he accepted the invitation to speak on campus because he has great respect for Minow.

“I was curious about whether a football powerhouse like Northwestern really did have students,” Shields joked. “I’m always happy to talk to students at any time, and this was a great opportunity in the middle of a hectic campaign. I don’t get to visit many non-swing states, but this was worth the trip.”

Medill Dean Bradley Hamm spoke before the lecture and discussed his own admiration for both Minow and Shields.

“One of the things that a great university does is bring in talented people to this place so that we can all share in what they know,” Hamm told The Daily after the lecture. “I think to have somebody like Mark Shields who has been doing this for decades adds special value because he’s seen all of the elections and he’s able to put it into great perspective.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that Shields’ lecture took place Monday. It happened Tuesday. The Daily regrets the error.