'The McLaughlin Group' set a standard for shouty 'news' debate shows. We don't need it — or Pat Buchanan — back on PBS

'The McLaughlin Group' set a standard for shouty 'news' debate shows. We don't need it — or Pat Buchanan — back on PBS
Image via Screengrab.

One thing our reboot and revival culture fails to account for is that many of yesteryear’s cultural stalwarts don’t withstand the test of time.  Pick a year — 1982, for example — and you’ll find “Blade Runner,” “The Dark Crystal,”  “Conan the Barbarian,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Tron” on that year’s list of releases, all titles that either influence modern TV shows or films, have been remade or revived, or will be.


To my knowledge there hasn’t been much clamoring for a remake of “Porky’s,” which ranked fifth on the list of top domestic box office earners in 1982, making it far and away more popular than any of the films listed in the prior paragraph. Times have changed, and that flick has not aged well in the 37 years since its initial release.

It should go without saying that a similar rule applies to television news and public affairs programming that was once considered central to the nation’s political and social dialogue. Newscasts are somewhat more immune to passage of time than other formats, but our means of digesting and analyzing politics has transformed as drastically as media landscape itself.

In 1982, PBS stations made “The McLaughlin Group” a core political affairs program of the Ronald Reagan era. Surely there were similarly themed public affairs programs in local markets, but only John McLaughlin's political roundtable was brash and grumpy enough to be worth parodying on “Saturday Night Live.”

Many Gen Xers probably remember Dana Carvey’s impression of McLaughlin more than any specifics about the host he was imitating other than his signature bellow of “Wrong!” when he disagreed with one of panelists — the core group consisting of Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Clift, Clarence Page and Tom Rogan — or wanted to transition to the next topic of debate.

It is possible that a number of middle-aged conservatives grew up with him, given that the series aired for 34 years until McLaughlin’s death three years ago, with the final episode recorded on August 12, 2016.

And if you didn’t realize that the show aired consistently for those 34 years, that’s probably because “Crossfire,” “Hardball with Chris Matthews,“ “Hannity & Colmes,” then just “Hannity,” “Tucker,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” “The Five,” “The Kelly File,”  “The Ingraham Angle,” and a number of other shouty shows on down to “The View” have come and gone or are here to stay.

We’re swamped with so-called debate shows across cable, and on Sunday morning talk shows on broadcast. We probably don’t need another, and I can’t think of anyone campaigning for public television to exhume the grandfather of paleoconservative debate series, dust it off and put it back on the air.

Naturally this means that “The McLaughlin Group” minus McLaughlin is returning to TV.

For this, send your thanks to Maryland Public Television. The revived “McLaughlin” is hosted by Washington Examiner columnist and McLaughlin’s mentee Tom Rogan, who will be joined by the original panelist team of Page, Clift and yes, Buchanan.

Rogan’s resurrected “McLaughlin” stirred to life on Sinclair Broadcasting-owned WJLA-TV in Washington, where it aired for a few months on Sundays in 2018 before going online-only. The MPT-produced version begins airing in Maryland and Washington, D.C., area starting on September 6. As of January 2020, American Public Television will make it available to PBS member stations across the country.

We’re swamped with so-called debate shows across cable, and on Sunday morning talk shows on broadcast. We probably don’t need another, and I can’t think of anyone campaigning for public television to exhume the grandfather of paleoconservative debate series, dust it off and put it back on the air.

Naturally this means that “The McLaughlin Group” minus McLaughlin is returning to TV.

For this, send your thanks to Maryland Public Television. The revived “McLaughlin” is hosted by Washington Examiner columnist and McLaughlin’s mentee Tom Rogan, who will be joined by the original panelist team of Page, Clift and yes, Buchanan.

Rogan’s resurrected “McLaughlin” stirred to life on Sinclair Broadcasting-owned WJLA-TV in Washington, where it aired for a few months on Sundays in 2018 before going online-only. The MPT-produced version begins airing in Maryland and Washington, D.C., area starting on September 6. As of January 2020, American Public Television will make it available to PBS member stations across the country.

We’re swamped with so-called debate shows across cable, and on Sunday morning talk shows on broadcast. We probably don’t need another, and I can’t think of anyone campaigning for public television to exhume the grandfather of paleoconservative debate series, dust it off and put it back on the air.

Naturally this means that “The McLaughlin Group” minus McLaughlin is returning to TV.

For this, send your thanks to Maryland Public Television. The revived “McLaughlin” is hosted by Washington Examiner columnist and McLaughlin’s mentee Tom Rogan, who will be joined by the original panelist team of Page, Clift and yes, Buchanan.

Rogan’s resurrected “McLaughlin” stirred to life on Sinclair Broadcasting-owned WJLA-TV in Washington, where it aired for a few months on Sundays in 2018 before going online-only. The MPT-produced version begins airing in Maryland and Washington, D.C., area starting on September 6. As of January 2020, American Public Television will make it available to PBS member stations across the country.

Often these men and women are pitted against legitimate journalists and accredited researchers strenuously attempting to fact check their erroneous, harmful statements, and the outlets in question assure themselves and their audience that this false balance is their effort to be fair.

Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all engage in their versions of political argument theater, with Fox far and away being the prime practitioner, giving viewers far too many options to watch talking heads of every partisan stripe (or on Fox, right wing versus extremely right wing) yell at each other.

What’s lacking is a venue for reasonable discourse about the social, cultural and political issues. The new “The McLaughlin Group” may declare that reasonable discourse is its intent, but the original never adequately served that purpose. It was always a more polite but stodgier version of “Crossfire” — a cancelled format co-created by Buchanan.

And while the Buchanan of the ‘80s and ‘90s might have been excused as a Nixonian paleoconservative who went against Republican party orthodoxy, today his views are completely in line with the white nationalism has become the conservative brand. His strain of conservatism is incapable of honest, illuminative, useful debate. A few years ago I would have called his rhetoric dangerous, but now it’s dangerously mainstream, completely in-step with the administration’s stated views and goals, which means “The McLaughlin Group” probably won’t be offering anything different than what’s on cable news.

Often these men and women are pitted against legitimate journalists and accredited researchers strenuously attempting to fact check their erroneous, harmful statements, and the outlets in question assure themselves and their audience that this false balance is their effort to be fair.

Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all engage in their versions of political argument theater, with Fox far and away being the prime practitioner, giving viewers far too many options to watch talking heads of every partisan stripe (or on Fox, right wing versus extremely right wing) yell at each other.

What’s lacking is a venue for reasonable discourse about the social, cultural and political issues. The new “The McLaughlin Group” may declare that reasonable discourse is its intent, but the original never adequately served that purpose. It was always a more polite but stodgier version of “Crossfire” — a cancelled format co-created by Buchanan.

And while the Buchanan of the ‘80s and ‘90s might have been excused as a Nixonian paleoconservative who went against Republican party orthodoxy, today his views are completely in line with the white nationalism has become the conservative brand. His strain of conservatism is incapable of honest, illuminative, useful debate. A few years ago I would have called his rhetoric dangerous, but now it’s dangerously mainstream, completely in-step with the administration’s stated views and goals, which means “The McLaughlin Group” probably won’t be offering anything different than what’s on cable news.

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