Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Friday, August 27, 2004


Shields and Brooks: the uneven left-right debate

Anyone who watches PBS might be familiar with a regular spot on its popular nightly newscast, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Every Friday, or as political events dictate, two regular political commentators appear on the show in order to debate the issues of the day. The leftist guest is well known journalist Mark Shields. His conservative counterpart is New York Times columnist David Brooks. The segment, rather predictably, is known as Shields and Brooks.

What I find most discernible about the debates is just how biased Mark Shields is, questioning how serious one should take the credibility of the left-right dialogue which takes place when they engage each other in argumentation. It surprises me that no one really stands up and takes notice - not the people at PBS, not Jim Lehrer, and not even David Brooks, which confirms my general assertion of a leftist advantage in the press wars.

Anyone who listens and watches carefully to the two men speak should notice a significant difference. Brooks makes an attempt to see things objectively. He criticizes Bush. He criticizes conservatives. He acknowledges the merits of some of the positions taken by the other side. He even wrote an article recently praising John Kerry for the stand he took on Vietnam when he came home from serving over there. This is something you would almost never see coming from a conservative voice, which is a testament to the fairness with which Brooks tries to approach political analysis.

Mark Shields, on the other hand, has become nothing more than a leftist cheerleader who can only see things from the perspective of a partisan. Just about everything he has to say is clouded by his deep desire to see his side win in this election cycle. He continually repeats many of the misrepresentations which circulate in leftist circles, and characterizes Bush's performance as though it were the greatest disaster since the Hoover era (which many leftists probably believe, by the way). If it happened under Bush's watch, it's an unmitigated disaster. If it didn't, then it's something to be praised or overlooked.

Let me provide an example from tonight's show.

In their segment, Shields did not have even one good thing to say about Bush, and everything negative about Kerry was the result of Bush dirty tricks. The latest ads by Swift Boat veterans was a distraction from the terrible economy. People want to see change from the Bush agenda. Criticism of Abu Ghraib was never over the top. And Bush's policies are pushing people into poverty and misery.

Alternatively, although offering direct challenges to the assertions put forth by Shields, Brooks always takes care to offer an non-partisan analysis of events. He believes Bush could do better to offer an agenda for the future. The Pentagon should take responsibility regarding the prison abuse scandal. The Swift Boat ads are not particularly persuasive. And Bush needs to do more than simply listen to the focus group spinmeisters. Conservative in outlook? Mostly yes. Blinded by that outlook? Not even close.

So, it does and it doesn't surprise me that you would have this uneven split occur on a show famous for it serious discussions and in depth debates. It surprises me that they would overlook such a serious disparity in the credibility of its guests. It doesn't surprise me that this allowance just happens to favour the left-leaning side of the political spectrum.

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