Years before Gore Vidal squared off with a lit Norman Mailer on Dick Cavett’s talk show, he and William F. Buckley tore into each other on live TV on numerous occasions in the run-up to the 1968 Presidential election, a continuing spectacle so vicious (“the only pro or crypto-Nazi here is yourself”) that it ultimately carried over into a courtroom. It was a huge sensation, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the tempestuous Fischer-Spassky televised chess matches, with two men who saw themselves as kingmakers behaving like pawns. The confrontation wasn’t just a sideshow but, sadly, prelude: political opinion becoming little more than scathing spectacle of little value or substance.
The endless channels enabled by new technologies and the Reagan erasure of Fairness Doctrine would have delivered us into loud, partisan bickering regardless, but Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s new documentary, Best of Enemies, sees the Buckley-Vidal drama as the tipping point of our new abnormal.
The opening of Michael M. Grynbaum’s well-written NYT article about the film:
Before partisan panels, split-screen shoutfests and brash personalities became ubiquitous on cable news, there were two men who despised each other sitting side by side on a drab soundstage, debating politics in prime time during the presidential nominating conventions of 1968. There were Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.
Literary aristocrats and ideological foes, Vidal and Buckley attracted millions of viewers to what, at the time, was a highly irregular experiment: the spectacle of two brilliant minds slugging it out — once, almost literally — on live television. It was witty, erudite and ultimately vicious, an early intrusion of full-contact punditry into the staid pastures of the evening news.
What transpired would alter both men’s lives — and, as a new documentary argues, help change the course of how the American political media reports the news.Best of Enemies,which opens July 31, makes the case that their on-screen feuding opened the floodgates for today’s opinionated, conflict-driven coverage.•
In my nightmares, ranked just below Ed McMahon’s direct participation in the Johnny Carson sex tape, is William F. Buckley discussing vivisection. That’s what he does in this 1990 Firing Line episode about animal rights that featured surgeon, Yale professor and author Dr. Sherwin Nuland (who passed away two weeks ago). The host and guest agree that animals should be used in medical experiments, though treated as “humanely” as possible. Nuland scoffs at the notion of speciesism and misnames the philosopher who popularized the concept in the 1970s, Peter Singer, as Peter “Berger.” All the while, Michael Kinsley darts around just offscreen, like an opossum with an impeccable résumé.
I think you know my feelings about JFK conspiracists, but Mark Lane, author of 1966’s Rush to Judgement, a broadside directed at the Warren Commission, has lived a colorful existence even beyond that explosive chapter in American history. A lawyer for anti-war factions and civil-rights groups in the 1960s, Lane later became a legal representative for Jim Jones and his Jonestown settlement in Guyana, which in 1978 descended into madness and mass death. He was on the scene when the cult members prepared to follow their mad leader’s orders–to drink his Kool-Aid–and survived by escaping and hiding somewhere safer–the jungle.
Here’s Lane, in 1966, discussing the Warren Commission with William F. Buckley.
There is plenty of time – and there are abundant venues – to debate relevant questions about Mr Snowden’s historical role, his legal fate, the morality of his actions, and the meaning of the information he has chosen to disclose.
But your appearance before the Commons today strikes me as something quite different in purpose and dangerously pernicious: an attempt by the highest UK authorities to shift the issue from government policies and excessive government secrecy in the United States and Great Britain to the conduct of the press – which has been quite admirable and responsible in the case of the Guardian, particularly, and the way it has handled information initially provided by Mr Snowden.
Indeed, generally speaking, the record of journalists, in Britain and the United States in handling genuine national security information since World War II, without causing harm to our democracies or giving up genuine secrets to real enemies, is far more responsible than the over-classification, disingenuousness, and (sometimes) outright lying by a series of governments, prime ministers and presidents when it comes to information that rightly ought to be known and debated in a free society. Especially in recent years.”•
William F. Buckley and Tip O’Neill reach across the aisle in 1988 to promote the U.S. Space Foundation. American space exploration lost course after the early 1970s, and it seems to only now be regaining momentum, thanks to a combination of public and private enterprises.
I often wonder this: What better prepares us for life, a loving and encouraging childhood or one that is more challenging? Do an inordinate number of slings and arrows in youth give us survival strategies we would otherwise lack? Does a warm and protective childhood shield us permanently no matter what we face later in life? It varies, I’m sure.
Joan Baez grew up in a Quaker family with a physicist father, being introduced to college campuses and interesting cities all around the world, being nurtured and developed. But did that prepare her for the Bob Dylans of the world, who lacked her kindness? Did that make her feel like she could put the world on her shoulders, a weight that no one can bear?
In this 1979 video, she discusses human rights in Vietnam with William F. Buckley.
Bret Easton Ellis, popular and reviled for having penned Less Than Zero, a dreadful novel not for its scenes of unimpeded immorality but for its sheer incompetence, visited William F. Buckley in 1985, while he was still a junior at Bennington. Here’s the first five minutes of the show, which features Buckley’s customary long introduction of his guest and a couple of questions of fellow young writer Fernanda Eberstadt, though sadly no Ellis commentary.
In a rare moment when he wasn’t watching porno, William F. Buckley spoke with Watergate heroes Bob Woodward (a so-so writer with his own credibility gap) and Carl Bernstein (a brilliant reporter and suspect human being). From 1974.
Two questions: How the fuck did I not know that Conan O’Brien had a jokey roundtable on his talk show in 1993 featuring William F. Buckley, Hank Aaron, Louis C.K. and Dan Cortese? And: Why couldn’t Dan Cortese have had the flu that night? C.K., not yet the comic genius he would become, and Robert Smigel are among the quartet of stooges mocking the host’s name. The Clinton Administration was a strange time in America.
Conan, of course, still has a show on TV, yet I miss him. I miss that Conan.
Before Mailer and Breslin tried to relocate to New York City’s Gracie Mansion, William F. Buckley made his own quixotic run for the mayor’s office for the Conservative Party. In these 1965 clips on NBC’s Meet the Press, Buckley discusses his candidacy.
Morley Safer, who should always, always regret the awful posthumous piece he did on the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, was much better in this 1981 report on conservative icon William F. Buckley, which aired just prior to Ronald Reagan assuming the Oval Office.
Can there be any shame in a world without secrets? We’re finding out.
Who would have thought that total surveillance wouldn’t just be accepted but welcomed, and that in this one way government and the free market could wholeheartedly agree. William F. Buckley and Senator Edward V. Long discuss our brave new world in 1968, years before Watergate or The Conversation.
In 1968, William F. Buckley interviewed German-American psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, who had a profound effect on American culture in an assortment of ways. Dr. Wertham focused his studies on violence, and beginning in the 1940s began crusading against the comic books that were devoured freely by children. His work led to the 1950s Congressional hearings about the comics industry which nearly derailed one of the country’s most unique contributions to culture.
But Wertham had a far wider career than that. He also wrote a seminal paper about segregation that helped the Supreme Court decide Brown v. Board of Education, funded a mental health facility in Harlem for residents who had nowhere else to turn for treatment of psychological problems and was one of three physicians to interview and adjudge insane Albert Fish, the “Brooklyn Vampire,” who was one of the most notorious murderers in U.S. history.
On a 1967 special, Woody Allen (and audience members) interviewed William F. Buckley. The conservative pundit asserted that tensions between Israelis and Arabs “will get tranquilized in time, I suspect.” Not quite.