Yesterday I lost a mentor and close friend. America lost a legend. Dr. John McLaughlin.
Host of the 34-year-running television show The McLaughlin Group, John passed away after a battle with cancer. He is survived by a close partner, Maritza, his nephew John, and his nieces Elizabeth, Karen, and Sheila.
I joined The McLaughlin Group two years ago, after sending a ridiculous e-mail to email@example.com. That message had a few components. First, I stated that I had grown up watching the show in London with my father. Next, I added: “I’m aware that this is a very direct message. Nevertheless, I want to offer myself as a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. There are three key reasons why I believe that I’m worth your consideration.” I then provided my details.
I didn’t hear anything back for a couple of months. But in late July 2014, I received an e-mail inviting me to a taping. At that first show John explained why I had won an invite: He liked the combination of my British accent, my U.S. citizenship, and my Middle Eastern politics knowledge. Such was his affinity for weird combinations. And that’s how our friendship — and my greatest opportunity — was born.
Still, what I owe John McLaughlin is hard to put into words. After all, beyond his mentoring, John employed me as a panelist and as a producer. The producing involved writing introductions to each issue for every show. It involved a lot of work for not a lot of air time. In frequent phone calls with John, I quickly learned that he prioritized succinct, informative, and non-partisan introductions. In those late months of 2014, McLaughlin’s profanities regularly echoed around my room. But in those formative experiences, I also realized John’s greatest qualities.
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First, his extraordinary intellectual curiosity. Every week, preparing the introductions, John was relentless in demanding the latest information from the best sources. This dynamic continued right up to taping time at midday on Fridays. Still, as his unchanging set attests, John was less concerned about presentation and graphics. Consider, for example, our March 25 show this year. For our first issue, we reported on Western special-operations forces operating in Libya. We were one of the first media outlets in the world to do so. Yet our associated video used a computer-game image of Special Forces! That reality speaks to John’s unencumbered sense of humor. For John, style was defined by on-air charisma, not by graphics.
I quickly learned that John prioritized succinct, informative, and non-partisan introductions.
But John’s humor was ever-present, on-air and off. I remember working on an issue setup in which John wanted to tease longtime panelist Pat Buchanan over his previous failed presidential runs. I suggested that Pat might not find the jokes amusing. John overruled me with a “Do it!” and then roared with laughter. And when the issue aired, Pat smiled. His friendship with John reached back to the Nixon years and was unquestionable. Another day, John called me to discuss the intricacies of David Ignatius’s head. John found Ignatius highly impressive but felt that he moved his head erratically while on camera. I did not know how to respond.
But my enduring memory of the good doctor is very simple: his decency. The McLaughlin Group was always more than the sum of one moderator and four panelists. It was the product of a dedicated and highly skilled family. The panelists came and went, but, led by John and our longtime director, Shelly Schwartz, the show thrived. Sometimes Shelly was overruled, but he always made the show work — and work well. Our strong ratings prove the brilliance of Shelly and his crew.
Ultimately, as with his many fans, I will always have my top John McLaughlin moments. And in those thousands of memories, John’s wonderful legacy will always endure. I am grateful to him. And I smile to think of the positive havoc he is now causing in heaven!