John McLaughlin, Storied Political Talk Show Host, Dies At 89

He missed Sunday's installment of his syndicated TV show due to illness -- his first absence in 34 years.
John McLaughlin, seen here attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington in April 2012.
John McLaughlin, seen here attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington in April 2012.

John McLaughlin, longtime host of “The McLaughlin Group,” the Washington-based political talk show he created, died on Tuesday at age 89.

McLaughlin missed an episode of his syndicated television show due to illness on Sunday. Pat Buchanan, a regular panelist, said it was the first episode McLaughlin had missed in the show’s 34 years on the air, according to the news site Deadline. McLaughlin taped a voiceover, however, to introduce a discussion segment about trade policy, Deadline reported.

“As a former Jesuit priest, teacher, pundit and news host, John touched many lives,” the “McLaughlin Group family” said in a Facebook message announcing his death. “Now he has said bye bye for the last time, to rejoin his beloved dog, Oliver, in heaven.”

The message didn’t give a cause of death.

“The McLaughlin Group,” which aired Sunday mornings on public television stations across the country, featured a panel discussion of current political and policy topics. McLaughlin would typically introduce an issue, then open it up for discussion among four panelists, who included both liberals and conservatives.

The current standing roster of panelists for the talk show was Buchanan, a conservative author and former Republican presidential candidate; Eleanor Clift, a Washington correspondent for the Daily Beast; Clarence Page, a syndicated newspaper columnist; and Tom Rogan, a conservative writer and pundit.

McLaughlin, who held a PhD in communications from Columbia University, was a columnist for the conservative magazine National Review, and a speechwriter and aide in the Nixon and Ford administrations before creating “The McLaughlin Group” in 1982. His other forays into television included his solo interview show, “John McLaughlin’s One on One,” which aired on public television from 1984 to 2013.

McLaughlin’s sheer longevity on television, as well as his no-holds-barred style and grasp of details of insider Beltway political maneuvering, made his weekly talk show something of an institution in Washington political and media class. He pioneered a brash and contentious form of televised political commentary, and was unafraid to grill panelists with questions, interrupt evasiveness and flatly dismiss conclusions he considered wrong.

Watch HuffPost Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim’s appearance on “The McLaughlin Group” in 2012.

But as media modernized to include more diverse faces and less orthodox formats, McLaughlin’s talk show increasingly came to be viewed as an endearing, if out of touch, throwback to a different era of television commentary.

Many millennial media consumers’ only knowledge of McLaughlin came from late-night television comic sendups of his retro style. HBO comedian John Oliver in May assembled a minute-long video mashup of McLaughlin’s curmudgeonly expression and tone when introducing discussion topics.

McLaughlin also drew mockery from Stephen Colbert in 2008 for claiming that contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama was not the nation’s first black president.

“Warren G. Harding was a negro,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin may have believed a theory about Harding’s African lineage that has since been disproven by DNA testing.

McLaughlin had a reputation for inappropriate behavior toward women colleagues. His office manager, Linda Dean, sued him for $4 million in 1988, The Associated Press reported, accusing him of firing her after she complained about his sexual advances. The suit was settled out of court in 1989.

Journalists and other Americans familiar with McLaughlin’s work expressed condolences and fond memories.