John McLaughlin, a former Jesuit priest, speechwriter for President Richard Nixon and conservative provocateur whose pugnacious style as a host of a political chat show helped usher in the era of impolite punditry, died Aug. 16 at his home in Washington. He was 89.There was a time, though, (in the very distant past) when McLaughlin's terrible little show was essential viewing in our house. Looking back at it now, the Group was really just a circle of mainstream press hacks shouting superficial conventional wisdom at each other. It was also an early manifestation of the "Fair and Balanced" trope in medial really being a hard tug to the right. Paul Glastris wrote this about it earlier this week. (link and key graph via Atrios)
The show had been on for only a couple of years when I first arrived in Washington, and among the young liberals I knew it was widely loathed, though universally watched. The lineup of regular panelists–Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Jack Germond, plus Mort Kondracke or Eleanor Clift—was supposedly balanced. But in fact it pitting three hard right ideologues (including McLaughlin himself) against two center-left journalists, so the left side of the panel always seemed defensive and outmatched—which is exactly how it felt to be on the left in Washington during the Reagan years. Roger Ailes, the Fox News president recently ousted on charges of sexual harassment, is widely credited as a genius for creating the “fair and balanced” cable network, but it was McLaughlin who first figured out the winning formula.And it was loud and without much substance. And it was only half and hour. After it was over, you couldn't easily go read and learn more or strike up a discussion about it online. This crap was the last word of the week. But today everyone says it's the internet that ruined the discourse.