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Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 04/12/2011

Morton Kondracke, pioneering telepundit, recalls the “McLaughlin Group” years at retirement party


Morton Kondracke at the Newseum celebration of his career. (Tom Williams/Roll Call )

Kondracke! Or as John McLaughlin used to holler: “MORRR-tahhn.” It still thunders off the tongue, doesn’t it? You know, Morton Kondracke.

They don’t make names like that anymore.

Kids, it may be hard to believe, but there was a time when it was a really big deal to be a print journalist on TV. Only a few were called to do it, and one of those was Kondracke — whose ensemble role in “The McLaughlin Group” was such a white-hot sensation in the 1980s it was immortalized in a “Saturday Night Live” routine; he went on to co-host the long-running Fox political gabfest “The Beltway Boys.”

At 71, Kondracke is leaving his longtime writing perch at Roll Call to lead an oral history project at the Jack Kemp Foundation. How to celebrate the retirement of a pioneering telepundit? Why, with a Newseum panel discussion, of course.

Over cocktails and before an audience of friends (Charles Krauthammer, Eleanor Clift, Lamar Alexander, Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, David Rubenstein, among others), Kondracke was interviewed by museum chief Charles Overby, who led him through a review of his career.

Like the time he made Nixon’s enemies list. Or some of his memorable New Republic headlines: “The Shah’s well-run kingdom,” “John Anderson can win.”

“That was totally off-the-wall,” Kondracke sighed.

And then, of course, the show that changed punditry forever and primed us for our future addiction to cable-news know-it-alls. Kondracke said he wasn’t on the pilot but got invited onto the first aired episode, and then the second. “I thought, ‘this isn’t going to last — people shouting and screaming at each other?’”

But it did. “It was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in this country, if not the beginning of the end of Western Civilization,” he said. It also helped him get his calls returned faster.

How about some behind-the-scenes dirt on the show — a little McLaughlin Confidential? Regular panelist Jack Germond used to tell McLaughlin, “You’re an [expletive],” right to his face, Kondracke said, “and McLaughlin would be forced to laugh, because otherwise he’d have to fire him — and he was the most popular person on the show.”

By  |  10:00 PM ET, 04/12/2011

 
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