John McLaughlin, often credited with starting the point-counterpoint style of television journalism, died last week at the age of 89. His weekly syndicated program, The McLaughlin Group, aired on many PBS stations, and added network affiliates along the way. It premiered the first week of January, 1982, and its final episode aired this past weekend.
The show was a hit among political junkies, in which well-informed political pundits from the left and right side of the spectrum would tackle the big news and political stories of the week. The regulars included Pat Buchanan on the right, and Eleanor Clift and Clarence Page on the left. In the past, other regulars included Robert Novak, Jack Germond, Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke.
Depending on the subject matter, and how the topic was packaged and presented by McLaughlin, the show was often enlightening—and sometimes infuriating. Many analysts agree that it set the stage for much of the left-right debate and discussion we see today on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN today, each with their own perspective attached. Those perspectives are usually personality- or host-driven, whether you’re talking about Sean Hannity, or Chris Matthews.
Back in the eighties, Arnold Mann wrote a regular column for Emmy Magazine called “Innerviews.” Emmy was the official magazine of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Mann wrote a series of in-depth profiles of leading actors, producers, television executives and others who had major influence in the industry. The profiles ranged from Cybill Shepherd and Fred Silverman to Lily Tomlin and Walter Cronkite. Mann’s profile of John McLaughlin was outstanding, providing insights into who he was and how this show was a reflection of his background as a Jesuit priest, as someone who worked for the Nixon White House, and who was the Washington editor for National Review.
I interviewed Mann several years ago about a book he had just written, They’re Poisoning Us: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico. I urge you to read the article and interview I did with Mann, primarily about that book. But for today, I am bringing back Mann’s 1988 profile of McLaughlin, an important figure in the evolution of modern political talk-TV.
Here are several excerpts from Mann’s Emmy magazine article:
“The power aspect of this job doesn’t interest me at all. What interests me is uncovering the truth on issues…Issues run my life.”
“I think people are impressed by the fact that we are intellectually honest, that we are not playing to constituents.”
“…if they want to call it The Gong Show, it makes no difference to me. Whatever brings them to the tube.”
“Anyone who has a sense of mission experiences a kind of priesthood.”
“…what really interests me is uncovering the truth. It’s an ongoing discovery, an exhausting and inexhaustible enterprise.”
I urge you to read the complete profile here.