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RIP John McLaughlin: ‘Nixon’s priest,’ speechwriter, talk show host

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 08/16/16

From The New York Times:

John McLaughlin, a former Roman Catholic priest who became an aide to Richard M. Nixon in the White House and parlayed his fierce defense of the president into a television career as host of “The McLaughlin Group,” the long-running Sunday morning program of combative political punditry, died on Tuesday at his home in Washington. He was 89.

His death was announced on the program’s Facebook page. The columnist Eleanor Clift, a longtime panelist on the show, wrote in The Daily Beast that he had been treated for prostate cancer for some time and that it had spread.

As creator, executive producer and host of “The McLaughlin Group,” which began in 1982, Mr. McLaughlin helped reinvent the political talk-show format by injecting unabashed partisanship and a dash of entertainment.

His program, broadcast on select CBS and PBS stations, inspired a generation of pundits, although few quite adopted his self-exaggerated, blustery persona. His penchant for giving nicknames to his panelists, his riffling through the week’s topics and his prosecutorial questioning became fodder for comedians, notably Dana Carvey on “Saturday Night Live,” even while policy makers tuned in for the political observations.

Combativeness was part of Mr. McLaughlin’s style from the beginning. As a Jesuit priest, he had been in frequent conflict with his superiors, who disapproved of his 1970 run for the United States Senate in Rhode Island as a Republican calling for a rapid end to the Vietnam War. Father McLaughlin, who had resigned as an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and switched his party affiliation, was believed to be the first active Roman Catholic priest to run for the Senate.

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He stood in sharp contrast to his fellow Jesuit Robert Drinan of Massachusetts, who was given permission to run for the House that same year as an antiwar Democrat. Father McLaughlin, who was chastised by the bishop of Providence, R.I., for his Senate run, lost by a wide margin to the incumbent Democrat, John O. Pastore.

Father McLaughlin went to Washington anyway, joining President Nixon’s speechwriting team in 1971. Nicknamed Nixon’s Priest, he gave frequent speeches in defense of the president’s conduct of the Vietnam War, including bombing missions into Cambodia.

…After Vice President Gerald R. Ford succeeded Nixon in August 1974, Father McLaughlin’s speechwriting position was abolished.

Father McLaughlin had maintained a high profile in Washington, living at the tony Watergate complex rather than in the austere Jesuit residence at Georgetown University where Father Drinan lived. This led his church superiors to rebuke him in May 1974, summoning him to a period of “reflection.”

Instead, in 1975, Mr. McLaughlin successfully petitioned Pope Paul VI and was released from his vows.

Read it all. 

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