TV news pioneer John McLaughlin dies at 89

John McLaughlin has died, at 89. The host of a long-running political TV chat show was once a Jesuit priest, and also wrote speeches for President Richard M. Nixon. He was a conservative provocateur with a “pugnacious style” on his political chat show, and sometimes interrupted his guests or yelled “Wronnng!” in response to their commentary.

As a host, he asked guests to analyze political matters and guess the likelihood of a given outcome on a sliding scale of 1 to 10, with the top of the scale representing “metaphysical certitude.”

Without The McLaughlin Group, we wouldn't have Fox News or political pundits yelling at one another on other channels. McLaughlin died Aug. 16 at his home in Washington, DC from complications related to prostate cancer said journalist Eleanor Clift, his longtime “sparring partner” on TV.

The Washington Post reports that McLaughlin missed the most recent installment of his syndicated public affairs program.

His approach forever changed audience expectations of public affairs programming. Mr. McLaughlin’s impact can be glimpsed almost any night on cable news channels, for better or worse. And although no one ever mistook Mr. McLaughlin for a digital visionary, his show’s staccato approach to wringing opinions from guests previewed the Internet’s addiction to fast and unprocessed news bites.

“Look at ‘The McLaughlin Group’ now and it looks positively quaint,” said Syracuse University television historian Robert Thompson. “The kind of thing McLaughlin was doing is being done in so many places.”

Although “The McLaughlin Group” dominated his later life, Mr. McLaughlin had a three-act career that started in the priesthood. He worked his way into politics, running unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in 1970 and later landing a job in the Nixon White House. As a speechwriter for the president and one of his fiercest defenders through the Watergate scandal, Mr. McLaughlin attracted media attention upon which he capitalized to get into television.

As a kid growing up in the '70s and '80s, I hated his show and how mean and awful people were to each other on it. It was the opposite of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street, to be sure.

Comedian Dana Carvey expertly parodied him on Saturday Night Live.

"John McLaughlin, provocateur of public affairs TV, dies at 89" [WaPo]

Notable Replies

  1. I remember going over to a friend's place every week during my college years, watching his show and drinking beers. It was entertaining as hell and it made for one great drinking game.

    I also think that the SNL Phil Hartman Frank Sinatra roundtable skit with "Shinehead" O'Connor (a memorable Jan Hooks) owes much to JM.

    RIP, John.

  2. Ratel says:

    I really, really don't understand that. But then I don't understand professional wrestling either.

  3. Crap. I actually liked the show. Guilty pleasure I guess. It had a goofy, campy quality about it, and most of the time the panelists seemed to be having fun even when they were screaming over each other. It never seemed to take itself too seriously, unlike a lot of the copy cats that followed. I don't know what it was, but McLaughlin's stupid schtick never got old for me ("Wrong!").

    Freddie "the beetle" Barnes... MortTON Kondrake... Eleanor Clift (who I like, but boy did she grow more and more to resemble a Skesis from the Dark Crystal)... Jack Germond... etc. etc. God, I feel old now.

    Byeh Byeh!

    1. My father, who was pretty liberal but a couch potato and not big into slow analytical news when he go older, watched McLaughlin religiously. I HATED that schtick. Squabbling bullshit that never shed light on anything. Really, this started the whole slide down to Fox News and blowhard hate-punditry.
    2. On the other hand: Once when I was visiting with the folks on the holidays McLaughlin did an actual, quiet, one-on-one holiday special with a scientist. Suddenly, there was this McLaughlin who know about Teilhard deChardin and Loren Eiseley. Wowwwwww.
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