Best of Enemies (2015) Script

(drum roll)

(cymbal crashes)

I keep nothing but a few photographs in the bathroom of myself at an earlier time.

The first shows me at the age of 25, looking rather anxious.

I've just bought a large house in the country and cannot afford it.

Here you see the young author of Williwaw at the age of 19, still in uniform.

Here, above the bathtub, in the place of honor, are the debates with William Buckley in 1968.

He was a well known right-wing commentator whose name seldom passes my lips.

(indistinct chatter)

Producer: Cameras, please. Cameras.

Announcer: William F. Buckley.


Buckley: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

That was a very nice introduction.

(light laughter)

On the other hand, if it hadn't been, I would've smashed you in the goddamn face.


Vidal: I do this so well... and so terminally, I have left the bleeding corpse of William F. Buckley, Jr. on the floor of the convention hall in Chicago.

Host: I would definitely have Gore Vidal and Bill Buckley on my television show.

I would guess that the rematch of the great conflict would attract people precisely because it held out the possibility of something-- Violence.


Camera speeding. Action.

Gitlin: In the 60's the institution in which Americans had the greatest confidence was television news.

Announcer: Split-second organization on a worldwide scale, speed and efficiency in the nerve centers of NBC News.

Gladstone: News was this big, bland center that determined for us what America was.

Which was white, Anglo-Saxon, there were never any vowels at the end of the names.

Announcer: Chet Huntley and David Brinkley still are the team supreme in the art of easygoing commentary.

Networks, did they deal in controversy? No!

Did they invite controversy? No!

They were in the center.

They were cementers of idea, not disrupters of idea.

Announcer: This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Good evening from our CBS newsroom in New York.

Sheehan: NBC and CBS were fighting for the lead and ABC was clearly number three.

The other two networks were doing full coverage at the conventions, gavel-to-gavel.

Turn the cameras and microphones on and let them roll.

And ABC had less money to spend on these things.

So, in 1968 ABC went to the truncated version of convention coverage to do an hour and a half from 9:30 to 11:00 at night.

Wald: They didn't have Cronkite, didn't have Huntley and Brinkley.

They didn't have the standards.

Producer: Cameras, please. Cameras.

(clears throat)

Wald: ABC was the third of the three networks.

Would've been fourth, but there were only three.

They had the weaker programming.

(man screams)

Rich: Somebody famously said that the way to end the Vietnam war was to put it on ABC and it'd be canceled in 13 weeks.

Wald: In order to be competitive, with the 1968 convention, ABC needed something. Provocative.

A media event.

And they settled on Buckley and Vidal.

It wasn't necessarily sensible.

It was a shot in the dark.

And it changed television... forever.

Buckley: Why are the races unreconciled?

Why does poverty persevere?

Why are the young disenchanted?

Why do the birds sing so unhappily?

It is easy to be carried away.

And yet always there is a strain of seriousness, something in the system that warns us.

Warns us that America had better strike out on a different course, rather than face another four years of asphyxiation by liberal premises.

This is William F. Buckley, Jr. in New York.

Perfect. (chuckles)

Announcer: This is the William F. Buckley America knows best.

Grimacing or incredulous or disdainful.

Readying himself for a deceptively quiet attack on his intellectual prey of the moment.

This is the William F. Buckley Barry Goldwater insists fills a crying national need.

Crowd: We want Buckley! We want Buckley!

Announcer: William F. Buckley, Jr. has a strong definite opinion on every subject.

So, wherever he goes, he has to have an answer about every question.

Interviewer: Do you think America doesn't believe in itself as much as it used to?

Buckley: Yes, I think that's true.

I think it's happening because of a restlessness for so long, as liberalism suggested, that it could bring happiness to the individual.

Then people tended to look to government agencies for those narcotic substitutes for a search for happiness and contentment, which they ought to have found in their religion, in their institutions and their culture themselves.

Tanenhaus: Buckley was the first modern conservative intellectual to see that ideological debates were cultural debates.

And what he did was to put conservatism on the march.

And that's the creation of the movement that we have today.

Patricia Buckley: He's stimulating. He's exhausting. He's fun.

Sometimes I could kill him... but not too often.

Edwards: He could've been the playboy of the Western world but he chose to be the St. Paul of the conservative movement.

Announcer: Most work days, he winds up in the offices of the National Review, his journal of conservative opinion which reaches 110,000 subscribers and is read by many more.

Tanenhaus: National Review is the most influential magazine of our time.

Why? The magazine attached to a movement.

My brother, Bill, he was a conservative, right-wing libertarian Christian.

That's what he was.

But most of all, Bill was a revolutionary.

Bridges: When the people at ABC had first approached Bill, they had asked him would he be willing to be the conservative debater commentator with the national conventions.

And he said, yes, he would.

And they asked him, "Well, is there anybody you wouldn't go on with?"

And he said, "Well, I would refuse to go on with a Communist."

"And, apart from that, the only one I can think of is Gore Vidal."

Cameraman: Camera's rolling.

Men and women who are sexually repressed regard all sexual pleasure as "dirty," "evil," "the devil's work."

Yet we are all prostitutes in one sense or another, ethically, if not sexually.

Kaplan: For Buckley, Vidal was the devil.

He represented everything that was going to moral hell...

that was degenerative about the country.

A cultural war has now joined the race war in the United States.

And the change is going to be very difficult.

And as our own Thomas Jefferson once said, "The tree of liberty must occasionally be watered with blood."

In a sense, this was the beginning of a war between an old order and what I hoped would be a new order.

(people shouting)

Tyrnauer: Gore didn't just see rioting in the streets, he saw revolution breaking out.

Remember, Gore Vidal was always an iconoclast.

An apostate. A writer against the grain.

And he saw Buckley and his ideas as anti-Democratic.

If Buckley were not taken out, his ideas would take down the nation.

It occurred to me that the central drive in human beings is power.

And that has always been my theme, that ideal in politics, which is an obvious manifestation of power.

Announcer: Gore Vidal is one of America's most successful and distinguished writers.

He also lives in a personal cloud of outrageous legends.

After the early books, which first brought him to the public eye, came a group of highly praised historical novels which sold in the millions.

But it was Myra Breckinridge that confirmed Vidal's place as the enfant terrible of the respectable American literary scene.

Tyrnauer: By 1968, he had just published a bombshell of a book, his greatest satire, and, I think, one of the greatest satires written in English, Myra Breckinridge.

(people cheering)

Announcer: And now, ladies and gentlemen, what you've all been waiting for...

Narrator: The book that couldn't be written is now the motion picture that couldn't be made:

Myra Breckinridge.

Tyrnauer: He'd gotten, you know, the cover of TIME magazine for it.

And his career was soaring at the time.

But, it was edgy material.

Vidal: I don't know where Myra came from.

I really was like the character, each day wondering what Myra would do and roaring with laughter as this thing presented herself to me.


I am Myron Breckinridge.

Uncle Buck, your fag nephew became your niece two years ago in Copenhagen, and is now free as a bird and happy in being the most extraordinary woman in the world!

And suddenly, it occurred to me, about sexual relations.

How indeed much of it is based not upon any pleasure principle, or even a procreative one, but of people gaining power over others.

Ah-ha! Gotcha!

And so I conceived of my androgynous protagonist who is a man who becomes a woman who becomes a man.

Bridges: A transsexual seducing men, or in one case, I believe, raping a man...



Tyrnauer: The themes of Myra Breckinridge, and also sexuality and transsexuality, was way ahead of its time and got under Bill Buckley's skin.


Mr. Buckley, did you see the film Myra Breckinridge, and why not?

Bridges: That told the people at ABC:

"Wow, we have a chance for some great theater here!

Let's get Gore Vidal."

Reid Buckley: Gore Vidal is a whore of debate.

And when it comes to values of our country, and of historical forces, the man is brilliant.

And the man is fun to watch.

But there is always a residue, in my opinion, when I watch him, of nausea.

I didn't say anything nasty about him, did I?

Donaldson: It is under... No.

All right.

(groans quietly)

It is understandable that the Republicans decided to hold their convention south of the Mason-Dixon line.

They had not done so in 104 years.

And it is obvious why anyone might want to come to Miami Beach.

But the real reasons for the Republican presence here are less obvious. And I blew that one. Let's--

(clears throat)

This nine-mile-long sandbar has one advantage above all others, it is remote.

It's therefore easy for the Republicans to avoid the danger of large, militant demonstrations.

Smith: There's a huge, almost empty convention hall down there waiting for the 1968 Republican convention.

There's very little work left to do before the first gavel on Monday.

Every political convention has features no other before it has had.

What's going to be distinctive about this one?

First of all, this is the first one available to the public completely in beautiful color, and lady delegates have received careful instructions about how to dress so as to appear vivid, but not garish.

Bridges: Bill Buckley took off for a week sailing before the Republican National Convention.

They sailed down to Cozumel.

I would be rather surprised if he did any special preparation for this encounter with Gore Vidal.

Edwards: Buckley expected this to be an opportunity to debate the issues, to have some fun.

He was not prepared for Mr. Vidal.

Merlis: Gore told me he hired a researcher.

He wanted to paint National Review as being racist, if he could, anti-Semitic.

Edwards: I don't think he was really interested in conducting a debate about the issues or about the parties or about the policies or about the platforms of the two parties.

What he wanted to do was to expose Bill Buckley.

Wald: Their confrontation is about lifestyle, what kind of people should we be.

Their real argument, in front of the public, is "who is the better person."

In one minute, A Second Look with William Buckley and Gore Vidal.

Grammer: Across from us was Howard K. Smith.

Suave, intelligent, madly apprehensive.

Rehearsing with his lips the lines he would presently deliver.

Thirty, 40, 50 technicians, reporters, directors filled the enormous room, at one corner of which, earphones attached, Vidal and I awaited the sound of the bell.

Lithgow: From past experience, I knew that Buckley would have done no research.

That what facts he had at his command would be jumbled by the strangest syntax.

Grammer: We'd exchanged minimal amenities.

And I scribbled on my clipboard to avoid having to banter with him.

And he did the same.

For all their ideological differences, they both see what the problem is.

That America can't stay on the course it's on.

And that the country's being split at the seams.

And each has staked out his position in ways that portend where our country is divided right now.

(bell rings)

To help us extract meaning from these conventions, two of America's most eloquent and most decided commentators have joined us this year.

They are Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr.

Can Mr. Vidal assess the Republicans for us?

Can a political party based almost entirely upon human greed nominate anyone for President for whom a majority of the American people would vote?

May I comment, Mr. Smith?

Smith: Please do. Yeah.

It seems to me that the author of Myra Breckinridge is well acquainted with the imperatives of human greed.

Well, I would like to say, Bill, if I may--

If I may say, Bill, before you go any further, I would like to say if there were a contest for Mr. Myra Breckinridge you would unquestionably win it.

I based her entire style polemically upon you: passionate and irrelevant.

Now, my point is that for Mr. Vidal to contend a particular party as engaged in the pursuit of human greed, requires us to understand his rather eccentric definitions.

Is it greedy really for a people to suggest that what matters to poor people is that they have houses?

Is it really greedy to want to preserve our freedom?

We have the luxury of being able to focus on those who are poor in our midst as though we can do something about it.

Which is something that no other country less occupied with human greed has--

The nice thing about the Republican party is that every four years after denigrating the poor amongst themselves, referring to them as "freeloaders," "they don't want to work," and I have many quotes here from Ronald Reagan.

And then every four years you get this sort of crocodile tears for the poor people because they need their vote.

It is quite true that Reagan is capable of talking about freeloaders, so am I, because there are freeloaders.

It is one thing to say that a society ought to concern itself with the plight of its poor. I think the Republican party is saying that.

Perhaps the Republican party should have a platform on how to deal with Vidal.

If absolutely necessary, I will write it for them, but meanwhile--

Meanwhile, I'd be very, very nervous. You have written lately of your intimacy with Reagan and with Nixon and that you've discussed the Vietnam War with them and that you are satisfied with their positions.

Since you're in favor of the nuclear bombing of North Vietnam, I'd be very worried about your kind of odd neurosis--

Or more like neurosis being a friend of anybody who might be a president.

I've never advocated the nuclear bombing of North Vietnam.

You have, and I'll give you time and place even.

Well, you won't, because I never-- I will.

I will if we don't mind. The record--

No, now wait a minute, don't duck away from the record.

You suggested the atom bombing of the north of Vietnam in your little magazine, which I do not read, but I'm told about, on February 23, 1968.

So you're very hawkish.

And now, if both Nixon and Reagan are listening to you, I'm very worried for the country.

Now, it seems to me that the Republican party has shown a record of greater sobriety than Mr. Vidal, who boasts of not reading something which he has prepared to misquote in the presence of the person who edits this.

Now, Bill Buckley, if the quotation is exact...

Now don't be... We know your tendency is to be feline, Mr. Vidal, but just relax for a moment and think very simply on this.

I have not advocated... I'm not horrified at the prospect.

Bill, I just quoted where you said these things and where.

Are you saying you didn't say them? I'm saying that I didn't say them.

You're taking them back? That your misquotation--

Tune in this time tomorrow night and we will have further evidence of Bill Buckley, cold warrior turned hot.

Right, and about the human greed of everybody in the world except yourself. There are saints.

Tomorrow, what Mr. Vidal thinks about the Kennedys.

Good night, and let me tell you.

Smith: Excuse me, gentlemen.

It's been very enjoyable hearing you articulate two points of view. Thank you very much indeed.

I think I detected some unfinished lines of thought.

We'll have time to follow them through tomorrow.

And tomorrow. And tomorrow. Every night, we...

Hitchens: There's nothing feigned about the mutual antipathy.

They really do despise one another.

Each thought that the other was quite dangerous.

And it was drawn from quite a deep well in both cases.

Gore Vidal and William Buckley first clashed, almost by proxy, in 1962 on The Jack Paar Program.

Vidal had gone on Jack Paar's show and they both started mocking Buckley: his eccentric mannerisms, the voice, the facial tics, all the rest.

So, in effect, Buckley was given equal time.

And he went on Jack Paar's show.

And Paar expected that kind of troglodyte Neanderthal man-of-the-right whom Vidal had caricatured on the program.

And instead, you have this genius of debate.

And Paar was stunned.

Lithgow: We next met in San Francisco, 1964, during the Goldwater convention.

I confessed to having prepared a trap for Buckley.

I egged him on.

The next day, Buckley sent me a letter to the effect that he never wanted to see me again.

I found this sentiment agreeable.

Cavett: Buckley was eager to be on television.

The downside of it for Gore was that he contributed to Buckley's... becoming an onscreen celebrity.

Hitchens: Mr. Buckley, read by many, but not that many, would be nothing if it wasn't for his program Firing Line.

Kaplan: Buckley sat in his chair with a clipboard and would invite left-wingers or liberals on his program, and they would go back and forth for half an hour.

People on the left are more law-abiding than anybody else.

That's why they're on the left.

Explain that, would you? I'd be happy to.

(laughter) You're marvelous. I adore you.

You're the only man who can ask your question, and convict the man before he can answer the question.

Television was happy to have Bill because everybody else was saying the same thing.

From my point of view, what Elijah Muhammad is doing to you is diseasing your mind.

You sit and tell me that we white people like to divide and conquer.

You do. I grew up as a white child, I heard much more talk against Democrats than I did against black people.

Alterman: When he began Firing Line he did it in part to show off.

But he actually did just what pundit television should do.

Which is he elevated the discourse and he educated people through it.

Smith: On the eve of the Republican Convention, the heat is on.

We bring you a report on who did what to whom in the last hours before the gavel.

Plus commentary and some dissent from our guest commentators: author Gore Vidal...

Merlis: ABC's unconventional convention coverage was a subject of ridicule as we were abdicating our journalistic responsibility.

But if the goal was to raise ABC News' visibility, we certainly succeeded.

Bellafante: Everybody watched the news.

Nearly 80 percent of the country watched coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1968.

Producer: We're going live to the West Coast in about six or seven minutes.

And then, ABC News' studio collapsed.

(loud creaking sound)

(crashing sound) (Merlis chuckling)

Merlis: The lighting grid fell down onto the floor of the set.

And the roof fell in... (chuckles) ...literally.

It was built inside the arena.

Man: Hard hats on.

ABC was really the Budget car rental of television news.

Pieces of the ceiling start flying, and then all of a sudden, the whole thing started giving away.

Mr. Lower, ABC promised to be unconventional this year but this is ridiculous. We're gonna be unconventional, Sam.

I can tell you that.

Thank you very much. Now let's just cut it.


(marching band music)

Announcer: This is Miami, day one.

From Miami Beach, ABC News presents...

Race to the White House.

Merlis: They did what they could.

Basically, they hung a lot of drapes.

Lit the set with C stands and lamps.

Frankly, I think it was an improvement.

We would like now to demonstrate how the English language ought to be used by two craftsmen, our guest commentators.

Producer: On the air in ten...

If you view debate purely as sport, let's call it blood sport.

Then really, all bets are off.

Producer: Nine, eight, seven, six. Standby now!

You have one objective, and that's to win in that moment.

Reid Buckley: When you attack the position of your opponent, you have to first attack it clinically and rationally.

Producer: Six, five, four...

But mostly what you have to get at is what's behind those things.

What is driving the human being who is in front of you.

Producer: ...three, two, one.

(bell rings)

Announcer: Gore Vidal. Tonight, the key question for every patriot is

"Can an aging, Hollywood, juvenile actor with a right-wing script defeat Richard Nixon, a professional politician who currently represents no discernible interest except his own?"

As of yesterday morning, Ronald Regan says, "The only function of government is to get out of our way and leave us alone as much as possible."

Now, on this occasion, I'm afraid I have to agree with William Buckley, the distinguished thinker, when he says...

My favorite quotation from you. I have a treasury here.

"Today as never before, the State has the necessary instrument of our proximate deliverance."

As usual, in your slightly Latinate and inaccurate style.

But you do feel, as most of us do, that the State must have some responsibility for what happens in the country. And now you have Ronald Regan, whom you approve of, who does not want to use the federal government to do anything at all.

Mr. Smith, I confess that anything complicated confuses Mr. Vidal. (Smith chuckles)

This has been plain for a very long time.

He has a great difficulty reconciling even axiomatic positions concerning political philosophy, but we were treated to Mr. Gore Vidal, the playwright.

Saying that, after all, Ronald Regan was nothing more than an "aging Hollywood juvenile actor."

Now, to begin with, everybody's aging, even Mr. Vidal. That's right. Even you are, Bill.

Perceptibly before our eyes. Then he said "Hollywood."

Now, one has either acted in Hollywood during the time Mr. Reagan acted, or one didn't act at all.

Mr. Vidal sends all of his books to Hollywood, many of which are rejected, but some of which are ground out into--

Bill, I never send any there.

But he called him a juvenile actor which is presumably to be distinguished from an adult actor. Now my point is--

Tanenhaus: Buckley was his generation's greatest debater.

He knew very well how to make an argument.

What he was even better at was dismantling your argument.

Now, I think this kind of-- Now, Bill, I think...

Bill, if I may say so-- I think ABC has the right...

Just as I think ABC has the authority... I'm almost through.

No, you're n... In every sense.

Let Mr. Buckley finish his sentence.

Then, Mr. Vidal, I assure you time to refute it.

If ABC has the authority to invite the author of Myra Breckinridge to come and to comment on Republican politics, I think that the people of California have the right, when they speak overwhelmingly, to project somebody into national politics even if he did commit the sin of having acted in movies that were not written by Mr. Vidal.

If Buckley was the great debater of his time, Vidal was the great talker of his time.

Well, as usual, Mr. Buckley... with his enormous and thrilling charm, manages to get away from the issue toward the comedy.

He's always to the right, I think, and almost always in the wrong.

And you certainly must, Bill, maintain your reputation as being the Marie Antoinette of the right wing and continually imposing your own rather bloodthirsty neuroses on a political campaign.

He also rehearsed his ad libs.

All the great bon mot that he unleashed on the air he tried out first on the reporters in the press room.

So calling Buckley the Marie Antoinette of the right wing he had done that with a reporter beforehand.

This is the hobgoblinization of the Marxists. Smith: Gentlemen, you have about one concluding sentence apiece. Can you give us one?

Well, I think that it is something for which all of us have to be grateful, that there are left in America people who believe in the democratic process sufficiently to know that occasionally people can penetrate such myths as have been energetically projected by Mr. Vidal.

Which would be not only a philosophy in an economy of stagnation, but also a spiritual world of stagnation.

Smith: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen. While...

So these two guys were circling each other early on.

Why? Partly because each one saw in the other a kind of exaggerated image of his own anxious version of himself.

It's almost as if they were matter and anti-matter.

Sort of parallel lives.

Tanenhaus: They spoke with these patrician languid accents.

They'd both been to boarding schools.

Very prestigious families and backgrounds.

So everyone thought.

These were two guys who were not so much of the Eastern establishment, as conquerors of the Eastern establishment.

Tyrnauer: Gore never went to college, which he was very proud of actually.

We are savages, my family.

Father was from the frontier.

We didn't belong to Long Island society, nor did we wish to.

McWhorter: This has always been an anti-intellectual country.

These days, anybody who spoke like those two men in public would be seen to be heartless.

In fact, they're supposed to be what American mass audience despises.

They're intellectual. They sound like elites.

But people warmed to it.

Mr. Buckley, do you think miniskirts are in good taste?

On you I think they are.



Those legs are in good taste. Allen: Great legs.

I never would've figured you for that kind.

Wolcott: Gore Vidal famously said, "Two things you never turn down: sex and appearing on television."

Daly: Go ahead, Gore. Joanne Woodward.

Very good. That's one down and nine to go.

Hey, put on your--

They both instinctually knew about the power of television in a way that a lot of American intellectuals of that era did not.

Why don't you just talk to me instead of talking to the audience?

Well, by a curious thing, we have not found ourselves in a friendly neighborhood bar, but both by election are sitting here with an audience. So therefore it would be dishonest of us to pretend otherwise.

Mr. Buckley, I've noticed that whenever you appear on television, you're always seated.

Does this mean you can't think on your feet?

(people chuckle)

It's very... very hard to stand up carrying the... the weight of what I know.


They were both very much aware that TV is the present and the future.

And you have to be on it and you have to use it well.

Tyrnauer: In a way, I think the brilliant thing about Gore Vidal is he had opinions and he was willing to air them and very, very bravely.

I mean, this was the person that wrote The City and the Pillar, published in 1948.

It was the first novel that dealt very openly... with homosexuality as being a perfectly normal sexual activity.

Tyrnauer: He was willing to take these risks that almost no one statistically was ever willing to take.

He deserved so much credit for that that he does not get.

You have your own narrow views of what is correct sexual behavior.

I happen to disagree with it and I think there are a great many people who do.

We cannot in any way encourage young boys into this kind of relationship.

You have every right to propagandize from the pulpit, and give us the same right to propagandize with books.

I certainly am not gonna try to shut down your church, as appalling as I find your argument.

Vidal's view is that sexual orientation amongst civilized humans is not named, discussed, or labeled.

Kaplan: Gore Vidal would never answer to the question:

Are you gay? "Yes, I'm gay."

Tyrnauer: You have to understand that Gore was obsessed with shedding sexual labels.

Gore: It is as natural to be homosexual as it is to be heterosexual.

And the difference between a homosexual and a heterosexual is about the difference between somebody who has brown eyes and somebody who has blue eyes. Interviewer: Who says so?

I say so. It is a completely natural act from the beginning of time.

The morays of the country are going to hell.

And if there was one thing William Buckley cared more about than anything, it would have been that.

We go on like this, abortion will be on demand.

Women will have sex with women. The family will be over.

The church won't be respected.

People will be screwing in the street, frightening the horses.

(whinnies) Buggery will be legal.

And if you'd said all that to Gore, he'd have said, "Okay, bring it on."

(bell rings)

In a very moving piece called "A Blow for Peace," in that magazine I will not mention, on the 29th of December, 1964--

We know that you'd like nothing to sully your lips.

You came out... You will eat it first.

You came out in favor of history at H for such an act of greatness.

That is the bombing of the Chinese nuclear capacity.

Mr. Vidal, I have no doubt that there are... there is somebody in Haight-Ashbury or Greenwich Village who considers that your caricature is fetching. I don't.

I was invited here and am prepared to try to talk about the Republican Convention. Smith: Yes.

But I maintain that it's very difficult to do so when you have somebody like this who speaks in such verse and he likes to be naughty.

Which has proved to be a professionally highly merchandisable vice.

Not unlike your so public vices and wickedness.

We have to keep in mind the left-wing was never hesitant about smearing anybody from the right-wing.

That was a battle Bill had to fight all the time.

The disease of the right is greed, bigotry, insensitivity and general stupidity.

On a radio interview, you said that you thought

"the Jews tend to construct ongoing political myth centered around the Hitlerian experience, which more or less suggests that Hitler was the embodiment of the ultra-right."

True. Most Jews suggest Hitler was the embodiment of the ultra-right.

He certainly wasn't the embodiment of the ultra-left.

And do you care to read the context, or shall I cram it down your throat?

No, no, no.

If you are a right-winger, you don't want to have anything to do with the Gnostic heresies of Nazism and Fascism.

And that was a label that the left-wing kept trying to pin on the right-wing.

Hitchens: Which is the cherry bomb that is waiting to go off.

And eventually does.

Smith: Good evening from Miami Beach.

Again we bring you in 90 minutes all that's worth seeing and knowing as the convention's moment of truth comes near.

(man shouting)

Can you hear me? Crowd: Yes!

I said "rich America!"



(crowd murmurs loudly)

Never has obedience to law been so disdained.

McWhorter: In 1968, you see the beginning of a Republican kind of rhetoric in which strategies of dividing the country racially are disguised with language along the lines of law and order.

Let's make America first again, in respect for order and justice under law.

Now, isn't that what you want?!

Isn't that where we're going to go?

You wanted law and order in this town. You've got it.

He's bluffing, boys. Let's get him.


The next one gets a load of buckshot. Any takers?

Must we avoid our great cities by night, as if they were guerilla-infested hamlets out in Vietnam?

Crowd: No!

Police radio: 10-27, we're setting up.

Tanenhaus: There was a racial protest that turned into a riot at the convention in Miami.

These were two visions of America clashing.

Officer: Don't give me any of that crap. Turn around.

Look at that man back there. You wanna look? Look at that picture.

To be sure, this might have been a trick by the lily-white climate of the Republican Convention which is in progress right now just a few miles from here.

The fault lines in our politics were decided in the 1968 election.

Alliances that connect in shifting ways.

Racial, religious, socio-economic.

What we now call "identity politics" was being formed then.

And Buckley knew it, because to some extent he'd helped create it.

(bell rings)

Smith: The subject for William Buckley and Gore Vidal tonight:

"Beyond the Nominations."

What issues can the Republicans use effectively to win?

Well, I think two primarily.

Number one: law and order.

I wish there was a way of saying "law and order" that didn't make critics say, "You're talking about the racial question."

I would like to know how to say "law and order" by other means, but still mean law and order.

And one of the problems that we face, and that Nixon's gonna face, is this.

What do we do about the growth of really mutinous members of the American community?

These people have got to be faced not only politically, but philosophically.

And this is something which, in my judgment, Mr. Nixon has got to elevate into the status of the genuine national debate.

I think that if Richard Nixon were elected President, it would be an absolute, no matter with what good will, it would be a disaster because the young, the black, the poor are disaffected and I don't see him ever drawing them to him.

Gitlin: Vidal understood what it meant to take the positions that William F. Buckley, Jr. took towards civil rights during those years.

This was at a time when political leaders had been able to block civil rights legislations with the support of entities like the National Review and figures like William F. Buckley Jr.

In the United States, five percent of the population have 20 percent of the income.

And the bottom 20 percent have five percent of the income.

I think this is irrelevant. I know that you revel in this kind of inequality. Your business is based upon that.

I believe that freedom breeds our inequality.

Say that again?

Freedom breeds inequality.

I'll say it a third time. No, twice was enough.

I think you made your point. Unless you have freedom to be unequal, there is no such thing as freedom.

And with Buckley, you see a shrill defense of what he sees as a completely collapsing social and cultural order.

What can I say? Not much.

You've given that ghastly position once again of the well to-do and those who inherit money and believe that others who do not...

This is balderdash. ...must somehow achieve equality.

But, in actual fact, you're going to have a revolution, if you don't give the people the things they want.

Now, I'm putting it to your own self-interest, they're going to come and take it away from you.

Sullivan: Because Vidal is so educated, and so one of his class, for Buckley, the betrayal of those values seems to be almost personal.

Gitlin: Buckley, he didn't believe in democracy.

He believed in rule by elites, starting with him.

(drum roll)

(cymbal crashes)

(people cheering)

Tanenhaus: The conservative party in New York state had gone to Buckley and said, "Put your money where your mouth is.

Run for mayor."

So it was Bill Buckley, the conservative candidate, and John Lindsay, the darling of liberal Republicans, whom Buckley was intent on defeating.

Interviewer: He has said that you're out to destroy everything that he stands for.

That is roughly correct. I couldn't have put it better.

I'm out to destroy everything that he stands for: hypocrisy and ultra-leftism.

Tanenhaus: Conservatism in America is an insurgency.

It's not the right fighting the far left, it's the right fighting people who are not quite far enough right.

Buckley discovered a new constituency for the Republican party.

It was angry white ethnics in Brooklyn, in Queens, in Staten Island, in the outer boroughs.

The same people who voted for Goldwater in '64 at a time of mounting racial unrest in America.

Reporter: The conservatives, more than 1,200 of them, paid one dollar each to see William F. Buckley Jr.

There was nothing fancy on the menu here.

Just hot tongue and cold shoulder for everything distasteful to the conservatives.

Ladies and gentlemen, the apparent winner of this election... is Mr. John Lindsay.

(crowd boos)

Edwards: He was realistic enough in 1965 to realize that he could not win.

What has made a difference is that thanks to your efforts, we have begun to reintroduce the two-party system to New York City.

(crowd cheers)

Tanenhaus: What Buckley had found all through his career, he wrote about this when he was still a fairly young man, is he said, "I lose all the big battles, but I win all the small, personal ones."

He said it with kind of frustration.

What he wanted to do was to win the big war.

The next president of the United States, Richard Nixon!

(crowd cheers)

Tanenhaus: Bill Buckley says, "This election, it'll be decided on the issue of law and order."

And he was right.

What is on people's minds, what frightens them is the fear that a generation that, by the New Deal, was put into the middle class is now going to lose all of those gains.

These are the debates we're having today.

Smith: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

You'll certainly be back, I'm delighted to know, for the Democratic Convention, where Mr. Buckley may attack and Mr. Vidal will have to defend.

We'll be back after this message.

♪ (theme music) ♪

Wald: ABC was very happy with the coverage.

When you talk about Buckley-Vidal, people took notice.

And they got noticed in the press.

That was very important in 1968 to everybody in television.

Bellafante: It turned out that this was kind of (chuckling) a hit.

"About the only fun to be had during the GOP convention, from a television observer's point of view, was found in the nightly tête-à-tête between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal."

I'm never sure whether politics leads what argument is, or argument leads what politics is.

But together, Buckley and Vidal are enormously successful.

Vidal: I've always tried to keep my political life and my literary life somewhat apart.

But in 1959, I decided to bring the two together in a play that became a film.

(patriotic music)

Hitchens: Gore does have a sense of a deep America and a deep history.

He's written The Best Man.

The best play ever written about an American political convention.

Do you think people mistrust intellectuals like you in politics?

Intellectual? You mean I wrote a book?


Well, as Bertram Russell said, "People in a democracy tend to think they have less to fear from a stupid man than an intelligent one.

Actually, it's the other way around. It's the stupid man--"

Kaplan: Vidal's interest in politics was not only ideological.

It was a very personal and social thing.

What image do you feel Senator Campbell is projecting at the moment?

I'm afraid I don't know anything about images.

That's a term from advertising where you don't try to sell a product, you sell the image of the product. Sometimes, the image is a fake!

After all, your own image is-- A poor thing, but mine own.

Paint me as I am, wart and all.

Tyrnauer: Gore was born into a political family.

He's the grandson of a senator, T.P. Gore of Oklahoma.

His father was in the Roosevelt administration.

He saw himself as the heir to this political dynasty.

And he was going to be the greatest of them all.

(drum roll)

(cymbal crashes)

Announcer: Candidate Gore Vidal.

Most of my plays, most of my writing is political or in criticism of society, should we say.

Actually, for a change I'm getting out and trying to do something.

Tyrnauer: When Gore ran for Congress from upstate New York in 1960, he saw it as the first stepping stone to the Presidency.

Kaplan: He doesn't exactly have the common touch.

He's not exactly someone who's going to appeal to the working class voters of the United States of America.

He had a sense of himself as being equal to and belonging in the world of the powerful and the elite.

Tyrnauer: Gore and Jackie Kennedy were related by marriage.

And Jack Kennedy gave campaign appearances for him.

He was on the Kennedy ticket.

He was a welcome visitor at the White House until there was a run-in with Bobby Kennedy.

Tyrnauer: This will sound absurd with hindsight, but he probably saw Bobby Kennedy as competition for the presidency later in the 60's.

And that's one reason Gore didn't like Bobby.

Bobby Kennedy is neither liberal, nor is he much of anything except a political opportunist like most of them.

The whole thing has been taken over by this camera, by people projecting images, a ghastly word, and it's...

These are the cards with which we play.

Bobby Kennedy immediately took a dislike to Gore Vidal.

Thought he was pompous, thought he was arrogant.

Interviewer: What is your current relationship with Mrs. Onassis, your stepsister?

Vidal: I haven't seen her since 1962.

There's no reason for our lines to cross.

She was devoted to Bobby Kennedy, and I was, as you know, plainly not.

And we fell out over that.

Tyrnauer: When Gore lost the race for Congress, that led to not only a disillusionment with politics, but a disillusionment with the United States.

Vidal: Naturally, I wanted to be a politician, but unfortunately I was born a writer.

And I would not say that I've exactly had the life I wanted.

Reporter: Most of Vidal's work is done at Ravello from the Sorrentine coast, amid lemon groves and vineyards, 2,000 feet above the sea.

His house is improbably perched above a precipice.

The ideal spot, as he would say, to observe the decline of the West.

Clapperboard man: Playboy After Dark, show number 15.

Take one.


(indistinct chatter)

Mr. Vidal, will you please sign my copy of Myra Breckinridge?

With great pleasure, with my extra-special William Buckley pen.


I wouldn't be seen without this pen.

I think this is the property-- Man: A gift from Bill.

A gift from Bill? Bill's not as nice as he looks.

I know Bill personally.

I know both sides of him. That's the best way to know him.


(classical keyboard music)

Grammer: In the interval between Miami and Chicago, I read Myra Breckinridge.

It attempts heuristic allegory, but fails, giving gratification only to sadist homosexuals and challenge only to taxonomists of perversion.

I thought and thought about it.

There is nothing left to say about Myra.

(song finishes)

Grammer: And so we met again, in Chicago.

Speaker: Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman...

Smith: Good evening from the International Amphitheater in Chicago.

There are almost as many problems still to be solved as there are flies in this building located in the heart of Chicago's stockyards.

The cheery welcome sign that is everywhere here is as much a command as an invitation.

Mayor Daley has beautified everywhere.

What he cannot beautify, he's tried to hide behind new fences.

Part of the tightest security checks an American city not under riot conditions has ever experienced.

Crowd: We want Eugene! We want Eugene!

Smith: Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey arrived in Chicago today.

Gladstone: The Democratic party was in terrific disarray.

Bobby Kennedy had just been killed a couple of months earlier.

He was already becoming a martyr.

The fight over the Democratic platform will move here, right onto the floor of this convention demanding a repudiation and a reversal of the Johnson administration policies on Vietnam.

Smith: At this moment, it is the calm in the eye of the storm.

Their wounds have had time to heal since Miami Beach.

They've had time to restock their arsenal for new assaults.

"They," of course, are William Buckley and Gore Vidal.

(bell rings)

Mr. Vidal, do you feel more comfortable, philosophically, here than you did in Miami?

Philosophically. I wonder if that word will ever be used again while we're here in Chicago.

This place is a shambles. It's a police state.

One's aware of the horrors of the world here: the smell of old blood, the shrieking of the pigs as they're slaughtered in the morning, all this reminds one of... of life and death.

So, in a sense, I do feel at home in a way, but not happy.

Merlis: Buckley realized he had his intellectual equal sitting right next to him.

Vidal had done the homework in Miami.

By the time we got to Chicago, Buckley had caught up and done some homework as well.

Smith: William Buckley, while on the defensive in Miami, may now take the offensive.

Tanenhaus: He was also an extremely aggressive debater.

And so he thought that justified every technique he could use to win.

As a matter of testamentary integrity, I reveal a concrete proposal contained in a letter sent to me by Senator Kennedy about six months ago.

The P.S. of which was:

"I have changed my platform from 1968 from 'let's give blood to the Viet Kong' to 'let's give Gore Vidal to the Viet Kong."'

May I see that? Really?

I think, however, that would be immoderate.

In any case, I do share Mr. Kennedy--

I must say. Mr. Kennedy's notion that Mr. Vidal is marred by his sort of strange fantasies concerning the realisms of politics.

We all recognize that moment when we reach for a weapon that we know is sort of off-bounds.

This is Senator Bobby Kennedy. Yes, I realized.

What a very curious handwriting. It also slants up.

Sign of a manic depressive.

You still mad about Senator Kennedy?

I did say that. Whether you forged it or not, I don't know and I will have to have my handwriting experts, the graphologists will have to look at it. I put nothing beyond you.

But to get back to the plank while we...

It's been fun inspecting your correspondence, but...

Wolcott: Vidal is relatively unfazed.

He had almost a Zen technique.

You let the guy lean forward so that he falls over.

And so, each night, there was more spectacle to be had.

(drum roll)

♪ (US national anthem plays) ♪

♪ (Aretha Franklin sings national anthem) ♪

Daley: The people of Chicago are proud to welcome a great political gathering of Americans.

Newman: All this security makes me very nervous.

Because it's necessary, apparently.

Our delegates are Paul Newman and Mr. Arthur Miller.

It's a little frightening, quite frankly, being in this... fortress trying to select a president.

Crowd: Hell no, we won't go! Hell no, we won't go!

As long as I'm mayor of this town, there'll be law and order in Chicago!

(crowd cheers)

♪ (singing US National Anthem) ♪

The forces of history seem to be going towards a reckoning.

It's like they've just gotta blow.

Merlis: ABC crew cars were equipped with gas masks and helmets.

We were asked to make sure the press didn't see this stuff.

They were anticipating trouble right from the start.

♪ (singing US National Anthem) ♪

(bell rings)

Smith: I would like to ask our guest commentators about Vietnam.

How do we get out? Have we really been beaten?

What matters here is that we have, in a word, lost the war.

Something like 90 percent of the casualties are civilians.

So when they accuse us of genocide, they are not without point.

Now, wait a minute. We've nothing to gain by this war.

We have not lost the war in Vietnam.

What we have lost is an opportunity to press that war with such weapons as are especially at our disposal.

The majority of the people of the United States, including the leadership of the Democratic party, and the one of the Republican party, belong with me, while you go to Rome and expatriate yourself.

I think we should straighten this out now.

I don't expatriate myself. I have an apartment in Rome.

I go there for two or three months every year to be close to the Vatican to contemplate William Buckley and his mad activities back here.

(clanging) And with enormous serenity, they're trying to get us, Bill.

And I think, to be perfectly bleak, and to be perfectly blunt, I think we're headed for total disaster, this empire, with people like Mr. Buckley here beating the drum.

And I think the instinct of the people I used to think was for peace.

I think it, now I come back and I see little American flags on the antenna of the car.

Buckley: They're getting ready for a war.

They're getting ready for war.

Wolcott: What Vidal saw was that the American empire was completely overextended.

Vidal: These empires are very dangerous things to possess, as Pericles once pointed out.

And once you get one, it's very difficult to let it go.

But if we don't let it go, it's going to wreck us economically.

We're already in trouble.

We're already in trouble.

And it has certainly divided the country at a time when resources should go to the slums and to the poor and to trying to revise an extremely shabby country.

I tell you, the day Rome falls there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before!

Gore Vidal disliked the United States of America.

He always talked about the empire in which he is now right.

Gore Vidal was correct in prophesizing that we would become an empire.

That is our present dilemma.

Crowd: The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!

Hitchens: This is the year of "the whole world is watching."

This is the year where all politics is suddenly televisual.

This is the year where the phrase "living room war" comes.

Sullivan: It was as if a theater piece was taking place for the public watching television.

(people shouting)

Please, help me!

Officer: If you do not leave, you will be subject to arrest!

Merlis: Gore asked me to drive him to an event with a couple of friends.

So I had Gore Vidal, Arthur Miller and Paul Newman in my car.

And we drove into a cloud of tear gas.

(muffled shouting)

Man: Get away from the police. Step up here.

Put the flare down. They're pushing and shoving.

We're gonna get it. Woman: Stop!

Crowd: The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!

Smith: Who is first? Mr. Vidal first.

Uh, it's like living under a Soviet regime here.

The guards, the soldiers, the agents provocateur, and the parts of the police, you've seen the roughing up.

There's very little that we can say after those pictures... that would be in any way adequate.

Smith: Let Mr. Buckley comment now.

The effort here, not only on your program tonight, but during the past two or three days in Chicago has been to institutionalize this complaint.

So as to march forward and say we've got sort of a Fascist situation, but don't infer from individual and despicable acts of violence of Chicago policemen, a case for implicit totalitarianism in the American system.

If we can all work up an equal sweat, and if you all would be obliging enough to have your cameras handy, every time a politician commits demagogy, or every time a labor union beats up people who refuse to join his union, then maybe we can work up some kind of impartiality and resentment.

These people came here with no desire other than anybody's been able to prove, than hold peaceful demonstration. I can prove it.

I was 14 windows above that gang last night.

And the chant between 11:00 and 5:00 this morning from four or 5,000 voices was sheer utter obscenities directed to the president of the United States.

I think it is remarkable that there was as much restraint shown as was shown, for instance, last night by cops who were out there for 17 hours without inflicting a single wound on a single person, even though that kind of disgusting stuff is being thrown at them and at all of American society.

Mr. Vidal, wasn't it a provocative act to try to raise the Viet Kong flag in the park in the film we just saw?

Wouldn't that invite... Raising a Nazi flag in WWII would've had similar consequences.

Yes, and-- People in the United States happen to believe that the United States' policy is wrong in Vietnam and that Viet Kong are correct in wanting to organize their country in their own way politically.

If it is a novelty in Chicago that is too bad, but I assume that the point of the American democracy is you can express any point of view that you want.

Shut up a minute. No, I won't.

Some people were pro-Nazi and the answer is that they were well treated by people who ostracized them. And I'm for ostracizing people who egg on other people to shoot American Marines and American soldiers. I know you don't care--

As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.

Failing that, I will only say-- Smith: Let's not call names.

Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.

Smith: Gentlemen, let's-- Bill.

Tell the author of Myra Breckinridge to go back to his pornography and stop making any allusions of Nazism.

I was in the Infantry in the last war.

You were not in the Infantry. As a matter of fact, you were not.

You're distorting your own military record.

The network nearly shat.

Buckley: Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi.

Or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.

Smith: Gentlemen-- Merlis: I was watching it with a number of the news executives in the control room.

Someone said, "Can they say that?!"

Well, you know, it's live. They had.

Reid Buckley: I think Gore Vidal was fortunate that Bill didn't punch him in the nose.

Bill could've broken Gore Vidal over the back of his knee.

When Gore Vidal called him a crypto-Nazi, Bill let him have it.

It is a slur.

And the rictus of loathing on Mr. Buckley's face is quite understated.

Tyrnauer: Buckley called Vidal "queer" on television.

It's a slur. It would be considered a hate slur today.

Profanity today is "nigger," "faggot" and "cunt."

Those are our only three truly profane words.

In 1968, you could call somebody a crypto-Nazi or a queer, and that was fighting words.

You have every right in this country to take any position you want to take because we are guaranteed freedom of speech.

We just listened to a rather grotesque example of it.

I think we've run out of time and I thank you very much for the discussion.

It was a little more heat and a little less light than usual, but it was still very worth hearing.

Tomorrow night, you'll have a chance to...

Grammer: My pulse was racing and my fingers trembled as wave after wave of indignation swept over me.

And then, suddenly, about to deposit the earphones on the table stand, I stopped, frozen.

Vidal, arranging his own set was whispering to me.

"Well," he said, smiling, "I guess we gave them their money's worth tonight."

Lithgow: It was a splendid moment. Eyes rolling, mouth twitching, long, weak arms waving.

Buckley skittered from slander to glorious absurdity.

Grammer: I reached my trailer after taking great strides through the maze of technicians, operators, executives, reporters, guests.

All of whom looked at me as I stomped by, and then quickly looked away.

Afraid, perhaps, that I would greet anyone guilty of a lingering glance with a sock on his goddamn face.

Merlis: The door slammed and I heard shouting.

Paul Newman had been in Vidal's trailer, and had been watching it on television, ran down the stairs, ran into Buckley's trailer and Buckley came in at the same time.

And Buckley, according to Newman, responded that it was a disaster.

(Vidal and Gore argue)

Bridges: These ad hominem attacks were not characteristic of Bill.

This was a totally unprecedented thing for him to do on television.

Tyrnauer: Vidal was a smart enough tactician to know that he had won the debate in that moment.

And that brings up the one final question now the election is over.

Will Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal kiss and make up?

(crowd laughs)

I think Vidal would love that.

After we did it, no network ever again did wall-to-wall, gavel-to-gavel coverage.

Cavett: It could be that some executive said, "Hey, whatever you may think of it, that Vidal Buckley thing had a big impact.

Get Mr. Pro and Mr. Con, Ms. For Abortion and Ms. Against Abortion...

Jack, I spent the holidays flying back and forth across this country and I'm worried.

The place seems all out of focus, sea to shining sea.

We've both flown many times, Shana, coast to coast.

But we see a different land below.

And you have them argue and that's punditry.

That's enlightenment.

Dan, there's an old saying: "Behind every successful man there's a woman, a loving, giving, caring woman."


Jane, you ignorant slut.


Argument is sugar and the rest of us are flies.

Radio Host: Welcome to Radio 81.

I think this is Ron and Gore Vidal is also here.

I invariably agree with your social views, the content of your ideas.

And I contest with Buckley's views.

But I hear you talk, and William Buckley talk, I feel that Buckley is the more honest man.

In what way do you find him more honest than I?

I think it goes way back to the debates you had with him on television.

And you literally blew his mind.

I've never seen Buckley lose it like that.

He swore at you and stood up and said, "How dare you call me a neo-Nazi!"

I thought him the scum of the world, you see.

I know, he was over-excited, yeah? Yes.

But I think-- What did you find dishonest about my performance?

It had to do with the glee in your face, in your eyes, that you could not hide.

Well, that isn't... I wasn't being dishonest.

I am a happy warrior.

I'm in battle, I'm enjoying it.

This is what these things are about.

If somebody that I regard is a very bad person... politically, then to expose him on television for what he is is my job.

And I think I accomplished it very nicely, so did he.

He brought suit against me as a result of it.

Bridges: A year after these debates, in August of 1969, Esquire published a long essay that Bill had written, something like 12,000 words trying to explore why he had reacted the way he did.

Tanenhaus: Buckley couldn't let it go.

He couldn't let this thing go.

He thought he would avenge himself or explain himself by writing in a sophisticated way about Vidal in Esquire.

Grammer: For days and weeks, indeed for months, I tormented myself with the question...

"What should I have said?"

Was my mistake that of going on TV at all, in light of the abundant warnings, with Vidal?

Could it be that my emotional reaction was defensible and even healthy, but that my words were ill-chosen?

The problem was, instead of putting a cap on the debate, he's perpetuating it on another platform, which really made it worse.

Vidal then replied in print to this barn burner piece to take the stage back.

Lithgow: On Wednesday, August 28, at 9:30, in full view of ten million people, the little door in William F. Buckley Jr.'s forehead suddenly opened and out sprang that wild cuckoo which I had always known was there, but had wanted so much for others, preferably millions of others, to get a good look at.

Vidal is always suspicious of Buckley's sexuality.

And makes references that suggest that Buckley has an attraction to the homoerotic.

Lehmann-Haupt: There was always a question of...


I don't know how to put it.

That there was a kind of sexual ambiguity about Bill.

Tanenhaus: There were rumors, none of them substantiated.

It was more a manner of affect, really.

Buckley was kind of an effete guy.

Merlis: If you read the piece, you are led to believe that among other things, William F. Buckley, Jr. was homosexual.

Kaplan: Buckley instituted a suit against Esquire magazine and against Vidal.

Vidal instituted a countersuit against Buckley.

The litigation went on for three years.

Interviewer: Is that still going back and forth in the courts?

It's going more back than forth.

Just... it keeps on ticking away like a bomb.

Hitchens: At the time, it was one of the longest lawsuits between two American public intellectuals there'd ever been.

Neither of them ever tired of it.

It gave them enormous opportunity for the practice of malice.

It's still litigious, is it?

Very litigious.

By the third year, Esquire said, "We've had enough."

Tyrnauer: Esquire ended up settling.

And then Buckley, in a stroke of brilliance, gives a press conference and declares victory.

In the public imagination, people thought that he had won this lawsuit they didn't understand in the first place.

I know that Gore hated that.

Was it ever resolved, who came out ahead on that whole thing?

Well, it sort of went on for several years.

And then about a week before we'd go into court, he called off the suit.

Pulled the suit out from under you? Exactly.

Exactly. I was looking forward to that.

(typing sound)

Interviewer: Why do you work so hard? Why do you work so darn hard?

There's a lot to do.

Edwards: Bill Buckley, the popularizer, laid the foundation for the conservative movement.

Which enabled Ronald Reagan to come along and to win that presidency by the margin that he did.

I can't tell you exactly when I discovered National Review.

It had a profound impact on me.

Reid Buckley: Well, my relationship to Ronald Reagan was pretty close.

There was an affinity of ideas.

I visited him and he visited me.

We took a liking to each other.

Certainly I to him.

Alterman: When Ronald Reagan saluted William Buckley and the National Review as president, Buckley became a king maker.

And he was seen to be a king maker.

And appearance is at least as important as reality in this world.

Tyrnauer: When Buckley and Reagan were ascended, and Vidal's political ideology was taking a backseat, I think this was actually a great period for him.

Some of his greatest writing occurred in the '80s, both in essays and in literature.

Hitchens: When another right-wing critic attacked Gore Vidal as being anti-American, Gore's reply was, "How can you call me anti-American?

I'm the country's official biographer."

Lehmann-Haupt: In Burr, Vidal got off one of his great lines.

It was the beginning of Vidal's attempt at revenge on Buckley.

I believe his name was "William de la Touche Clancey".

And I think Vidal said somewhere that it could not possibly be based on anyone, meaning that of course it's based on Bill.

Lithgow: William de la Touche Clancey's voice is like that of a furious goose, all honks and hisses.

He detests our democracy.

He fills the pages of his magazine, America, with libelous comments on all things American.

Despite a rich wife and five children, he is a compulsive sodomite, forever preying on country boys new to the city.

It is extreme and...

He was a good hater, Vidal.

God knows what is at the very bottom of that animosity.

Tyrnauer: He talked about it every day.

You don't talk about something every day that didn't cut you.

And I don't think that ever really healed.

We were in Ravello, not much to do after dinner.

He had acquired a VHS copy of the Vidal/Buckley debates.

I naively said, "Do you think we could watch them?"

Little did I realize this was the main event for the night.

We then watched them, I think, again a couple nights later.

And on subsequent trips we watched them two or three times.

And the thrill of the first viewing was gone.

And you began to have the sensation that you were edging into Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond territory.

Tanenhaus: It was Buckley who was distressed by it.

Buckley let it become personal in a way that he had been a maestro of being able to avoid.

And that haunted him for a very long time.

Koppel: After 33 years on PBS, William F. Buckley, Jr. taped his last program before an audience of invited guests.

Tanenhaus: The last show was succeeded by an interview with Ted Koppel.

And at one point, he showed the now already infamous clip.

Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.

Buckley, uncharacteristically, said nothing and then they went to the commercial break.

I was in the audience that day.

And he made a beeline up the aisle to where I was sitting and said, "I thought that tape had been destroyed."

Bridges: More than 30 years after the original debates, he was still furious with Vidal, and still shaken that he had reacted that way.

Do you wish you were 20? No!

Absolutely not.

No, I would...

If I had a pill which would reduce my age by 25 years, I wouldn't take it. Why not?

Because I'm tired of life.

Are you really? Yeah.

I really am.

I'm utterly prepared to stop... living on.

Any regrets about this life that you have lived?

Yeah... Like what?

Well, I'm not sure I'd tell you.

Cavett: Someone asked when Bill Buckley died what Gore thought.

He said, "I thought that hell will be a livelier place, that he will be permanently among those he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatreds."

Tyrnauer: The last line of that piece was:

"WFB, rest in hell."

It seems a little farfetched to say that Gore Vidal was waiting around for Buckley to die so he could have the last word.

But I promise you that he took great pleasure in that.

He was not satisfied if he didn't have something to fight against.

And at the end of his life, I think he was fighting against the ghosts of all these enemies.

Truman Capote once famously said, that it wasn't a matter of when Gore Vidal would be forgotten, it was more or less when did he start to be forgotten?

Gore was convinced this had happened already.

The young had forgotten him. His books weren't being read anymore.

Tanenhaus: These figures become most interesting when they're not listened to so much.

Because then there's a kind of big silence inside themselves.

I compared it in an essay I wrote to Wallace Stevens' great poem, The Snowman, where he says, "You have to have a mind of winter to see nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."

I think these great debates are absolutely nonsense.

The way they're set up, there's almost no interchange of ideas, very little even of personality.

There's also a terrible thing about this medium that hardly anyone listens.

They sort of get an impression of somebody and they think they've figured out just what he's like by seeing him on television.

Alterman: The Buckley-Vidal debate was a harbinger of an unhappy future.

Buckley: Does television run America?

There is an implicit conflict of interest between that which is highly viewable and that which is highly illuminating.

Gladstone: That was a time when television was still a public square.

Where Americans gathered and saw pretty much the same thing.

There's nothing like that now.

(overlapping shouting)

(laughing) That's terrifying!

Host: Well, it's because, see, we're a debate show.

It's like saying-- Stewart: No, that'd be great, I would love to see a debate show.

...a 24-hour day where we have each side on as best we can--

No. That would be great. You're doing theater when you should be doing debate.

Kaplan: The ability to talk the same language is gone.

More and more, we're divided into communities of concern.

Each side can ignore the other side and live in its own world.

It makes us less of a nation.

Because, what binds us together is the pictures in our heads.

But if those people are not sharing those ideas... they're not living in the same place.

(audio static)

You've got a few more seconds. Are you capable of summing up in ten seconds? No.