How the template was developed:
At its high point, the syndicated "McLaughlin Group," which airs on NBC and PBS affiliates nationally, had 3.5 million viewers, far more than the top-rated FOX News Channel opinion shows today. Host John McLaughlin, a former Jesuit priest, aide to Richard Nixon, and National Review alum, chose the topics, the sequencing, and his four fellow panelists. The show always pitted three or four conservatives against two or even only one liberal. Over the years, one of the liberal slots typically went to a nonideological reporter, such as the Baltimore Sun's dyspeptic Jack Germond. Often, the "liberal" guest, usually the bumbling Morton Kondracke, then of The New Republic and now with the FOX News Channel, was booked to endorse and bestow legitimacy on conservative views.
This arrangement left Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, the sole woman panelist, who was typecast as a screechy feminist, to fend off two or even three angry, white, conservative men. Among the regular panelists, only the liberals -- not the conservatives -- were trained reporters. Putting Clift and Germond -- rather than liberal opinion writers -- up against conservative ideologues bolstered the conservative caricature of all reporters as closet liberals; at the same time, it ensured that liberals would be more restrained and nuanced in their advocacy than their opponents.
This imbalanced and exaggerated TV picture was projected, to Washington and the nation, as if it were somehow a representative microcosm of political dialogue in the country during Ronald Reagan's presidency, leaving the indelible misimpression that conservatism was the dominant view in the country. Meanwhile, McLaughlin's buffoonery -- his exaggerated manner, his nicknames for panelists, his reduction of politics into a game show -- made conservatism seem unthreatening, and even funny. From the composition and tone of "The McLaughlin Group" panels sprang the stereotype that conservatives are entertaining, while liberals are whiny and boring -- another seeming advantage engineered by the Right as the values of entertainment, rather than those of journalism, were prevailing on television.