If you’re as old as I am, you might remember the McGlaughlin Group. It was one of those Sunday morning political talk shows where a panel of pundits shouted at each other on the issues of the day, and every once in a while the host, Dr. John McGlaughlin, would silence everybody by taking a full breath and bellowing, “WRONG!” if he didn’t agree with something said by Elanor Clift, Morton Kondracke or that heavyset fellow from the Baltimore Sun whose name I can’t remember at the moment.
The free-for-all discussion style was fun to watch because it was new to TV at the time. Back then, in the 1980s and 90s, most people on TV were polite and didn’t interrupt each other, so the McGlaughlin Group was this zany, crazy, out of control thing, the likes of which we hadn’t seen before. We watched it for the content of the discussion, and for the chance that Fred Barnes would choke and make coffee come out of his nose when John startled him with a mid-swallow “WRONG!”.
But, times change, and everyone on TV hollers at each other, now. The McGlaughlin format that used to be so charmingly chaotic is now commonplace and there’s so much shouting that it is impossible to really hear anyone.
While etiquette has declined in our pundits and presenters, the media landscape has changed, too. Discussions of today’s politics aren’t limited to newspaper columns or the “Big Three” networks on broadcast TV. Now, there’s the talk radio industry, and all the pay-TV channels which have their own political “analysts” - professional yellers yelling at each other, and yelling at us.
And we aren’t just spectators, anymore. The webesphere lets us shout right back, and shout we do. On Facebook and Twitter and any other platform we can find. It’s like we’re living in a 24/7 McGlaughlin Group, except there are seven billion panelists and the moderator stepped out for a smoke and never came back.
We click and share and retweet - sometimes the most outlandish things - creating mountains out of molehills, enemies out of friends. Talking points become shouting points and it’s a good thing this argument is online, or they’d be punching points, as we defend our views from those bastards on the other side. We respond to the latest outrage with an outrage of our own and I wish Dr. John was still with us to take one of those deep breaths and shout “WRONG!” and make us all be quiet for a second.
P.S. Jack Germond. That was the guy’s name from Baltimore. I just remembered.