With today’s 24-hour news cycle with countless cable networks, we don’t think of the past when we had just the three main networks: NBC, CBS, and ABC. Today we take political commentaries and insolent attacks against others and their political views as the norm. But that really didn’t start until the late 1960s. And the two men who started this format were William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, two gentlemen who had very different ideas about life and politics and both had superb knowledge of the English language.
In the Independent Lens documentary Best of Enemies, the rivalry between these two men and their imprints on today’s political landscape are examined. Back in the 1960s, ABC was third among the three networks. They didn’t have the finances to cover the political conventions gavel to gavel, as the other two did. So they reverted to employing Buckley and Vidal to debate the candidates and issues. This was a new tact and one that turned out to be successful for ABC.
What ultimately happened is that name-calling turned the tide and took a toll on Buckley. Both men were well versed in the language and could talk circles around anyone else, but when you put them together in a head-to-head matchup, the explosion was heard around the world, so to speak. Well, at least around the country.
This is a very interesting documentary. “In the focused light of the 1968 national television camera, the seeds were planted for our present media landscape, when the spectacle trumps the content of argument,” says director Robert Gordon. “Each side today, like these two men, sees the other as malignant, promulgating views catastrophic for America; strident partisanship is understood as virile patriotism and compromise is castration. These Vidal-Buckley debates forecast the present state of civic discourse, heated by camera lights and abbreviated by corporate sponsors.”
“Ultimately, this is a story about something I care about deeply; how the way we now ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to each other through media is in fact corrosive to our society,” says director Morgan Neville. “Sometimes I look around and wonder, ‘What happened to the adults in our culture?’ This film, I hope, offers some clues.”
Once you see this and learn about the Buckley/Gore debates, you won’t look at today’s talking heads the same way.
Best of Enemies premiers October 3, 2016 on PBS.
About the Author
Francine Brokaw has been covering all aspects of the entertainment industry for 20 years. She also writes about products and travel. She has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines as well as Internet websites. She has written her own book, Beyond the Red Carpet The World of Entertainment Journalists, from Sourced Media Books.
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