WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — “Wrong!” the former Jesuit priest, Nixon wordsmith and Rhode Island Irishman would bellow into the camera.
It boomed into American homes for decades and many times his refrain elicited a laugh.
John McLaughlin once told his religious order he wanted its blessing to run for the U.S. Senate. He was told no. McLaughlin did it anyway. He lost the election badly.
McLaughlin’s scrappy nature is what made the long-running “McLaughlin Group” what it became. It wasn’t afternoon tea at the Ritz. It was part bar-room brashness and locker-room boyish badness. And it took one woman, journalist Eleanor Clift, to keep them all in place or many times put them in their place.
We lost John McLaughlin Tuesday. He was 89.
His fellow panelists knew the end was near when McLaughlin missed his first taping of the show in 34 years.
It was said his show was the first real home for conservatives to speak their minds on television and tell it like it is. Nixon-era pals such as Pat Buchanan joined the cast of commentators and journalists.
The show was like a neighborhood basketball team assembled by McLaughlin. He brought to the court the people he wanted as part of his crew.
They were his crew and it was one tailor-made to be caricatured.
The barking talk show host, the male understudies, and a woman attempting to jump in to get her point across. (Many women can relate.)
In the ’90s, Dana Carvey portrayed McLaughlin on “Saturday Night Live,” which meant he had become part of the American culture.
If you’re mocked on “SNL,” you were worthy of it. That, alone, was the highest compliment.
There’s no doubt McLaughlin had his critics. He was known to be brash to staffers and allegedly once told a female staffer to make him toast. If she didn’t like it, he could fire her.
McLaughlin could be difficult. He did divorce twice.
Yet, in part, that’s why we so liked McLaughlin because he was complex and imperfect like the rest of us.
McLaughlin lived a life and a half before he ever entered our living rooms.
It’s that part which makes him the most interesting. Having been a priest. Having run for office. Writing speeches for Nixon.
A lifetime of experiences capped by his signature sign off “Bye, Bye!”