When Joe Bob Briggs Made Fun of The McLaughlin Group: “It’s Dyslexic Free Association”


John McLaughlin always ended his show “Bye-Bye.”

Two good Washington Post pieces today on the passing of TV talk show host John McLaughlin: An obit by Erik Wemple and an appreciation by Paul Farhi. As an irreverent complement to the Post stories, here are excerpts from an April 1988 Washingtonian article, “Brunch of the Living Dead,” by Joe Bob Briggs.

The Washingtonian had asked Joe Bob, who made a name for himself as a Texas redneck movie reviewer, to watch Washington’s four weekend political talk shows: The McLaughlin Group, Washington Week in Review, Inside Washington, and This Week With David Brinkley.

Joe Bob described the experience of a marathon watching of the political talk shows this way: “I’ve seen more than 8,000 exploitation movies and I can say, beyond any doubt, these are some of the finest horror shows ever produced. After I started watching them, one after another, hour after hour, it was like being on a freeway full of constant traffic wrecks. . . .You know how some people get addicted to drugs, some get hooked on alcohol, I’m not real proud about admitting this, but I got hooked on bullshit.”

Joe Bob’s review of The McLaughlin Group:

This show is the gravelly-voice, pit-bull-dog champion of the airwaves, the first show that looks like it was put together by wrestling promoters. Right away McLaughlin, the jowly Nixonite himself, start screaming into the camera like a bullfrog on acid: “In New Hampshire it’s clear that the gloves are off, Pat!” This is an animal’s trainer’s command for Pat Buchanan to bark out the first two or three words that come to his mind. . . .It’s the new talk-show technique called “dyslexic free association.”

The cast: Morton Kondracke of the New Republic, the only kid ever allowed on the show, has one of those Frankie Avalon hair helmets. This is balanced on the other extreme by Jack Germond of the Baltimore Evening Sun, who’s evidently in training to be a Tibetan monk, and Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, who’s got white hair, a nose recently broken with a tire tool, and eye sockets so deep that Weyerhaeuser can films its commercial in there. McLaughlin looks like Captain Binghamton in McHale’s Navy.

Also mentioned: The grinning Eleanor Clift of Newsweek wears the ultimate talk-show accessory—milk white stockings. Everything about her is sensible, and she keeps her mouth shut when the men are screaming.

David Gergen’s main purpose on the show is to perpetuate the massive international conspiracy that US News & World Report is still being published. Actually, the last issue was in February 1948 and they’ve been sending out the same magazine every week since then.

The show: Yelling, finger-pointing, “Will you let me finish!”and “You’re libeling a dead man!” Sometimes the dueling brain-tumor candidates, Novak and McLaughlin, both look like they’re gonna spontaneously combust, specially when they’re talking about something like homos-in-the Army. . . .If David Gergen is around, he brings the whole deal to a halt by opening his mouth and astounding the audience by his uncanny resemblance to the Cat in the Hat.

More on the show: Jack Germond once justified an opinion by saying he actually attended an Alexander Haig press conference—as opposed to the other scum on the panel, who merely watched it on TV. Novak, the first man in history to file a tax return marked “Occupation: Obnoxious,” depends on a network of unidentified sources so vast that he can never even remember who any of them are.

Joe Bob’s final line: “Frankly, I’ll take the Diane Rehm Show.”
The next month the Washingtonian’s gossip column, What We’ve Heard, said:

“Wise hostesses shouldn’t seat Robert Novak next to John McLaughlin at dinner parties. The two aren’t bosom buddies these days, and away from the camera they barely speak to each other. Novak is still a mainstay on The McLaughlin Group, but McLaughlin might start cutting him out of the lucrative public appearances the gang makes around the country.”
Paul Farhi’s look back in his appreciation today:

As much as anyone, McLaughlin, who died Tuesday at the age of 89, taught America how to argue about politics. Which is to say, with short, sharp jabs, and often at high volume. That incessant racket you hear all the time now about Trump, Clinton, and what all? Some of that is McLaughlin’s legacy as the master of ceremonies for the family food fight known as “The McLaughlin Group.”


  1. Jack Limpert says

    The note below was posted on Facebook by a friend of Arch Campbell—it’s always nice to hear that someone prominent with a seemingly large ego was in real life a very nice person.

    I loved John McLaughlin. When I was very young and still trying to find my way, I was a concierge in the building where Oliver Productions was. He was always very kind and friendly, super intelligent, and made even a peon like myself feel important. He’d discuss current issues with me, ask for and listen to my thoughts and opinions about things, and always gave me great advice and was always very encouraging and supportive of my charities and future… RIP JM.

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