The inaugural Prize for Civility in Public Life, presented by Allegheny College, a small liberal arts school in Meadville, Pa., goes to PBS NewsHour political commentators David Brooks and Mark Shields. In a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, college President James H. Mullen Jr. said the school is “launching a quest” to reverse the “rise of incivility in our democracy” with the award, presented today (Feb. 21) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Jim Lehrer, PBS NewsHour executive editor, said in a statement, “Mark Shields and David Brooks deserve this and all other awards there are or ever will be for civility. They live it and practice it ways that are truly unique.”
“Incivility threatens the long-term health of our democracy,” Mullen writes in the Post-Gazette. “But the harsh truth is, we’re not doing anything serious to change it. Instead, incivility is too often rewarded. And civility is usually taken for granted or ignored. If we’re serious about enhancing civility, we must shine a bright light on the unsung heroes of democracy today — the many women and men who practice partisan politics passionately but with civility, each and every day. Civility will become a norm only when rewards for civility become a norm.”
Mullen has high praise for the Friday evening on-air dynamic between Brooks and Shields, which the show has dubbed “Political conversation, not a shouting match.” “Every week Mr. Brooks and Mr. Shields come together on PBS NewsHour to vigorously debate the issues of the day, respecting each other as they do so,” he writes. “They demonstrate that civility does not require one to be tepid. Mr. Brooks proudly argues from the right; Mr. Shields from the left. But they advocate their views with steadfast civility.”
Mullen concluded: “Civility is a choice. We must help public servants and candidates make that choice. Until we do so, we are part of the incivility problem — no matter how politely we sit on the sidelines.”