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The Legacy of William F. Buckley's Firing Line

Conservative American pundit and public intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. was host of the television series Firing Line from 1966 until 1999, making it the longest running talk show in history to have a single host. The format was simple: Buckley had on one or several guests who were qualified to have something to say on a given topic. He and they would discuss and often debate that topic. As Buckley put it, "the show is based on the proposition that an interesting person can be interesting for sixty minutes consecutively." The show was noted for its formal, respectful tone as well as its generally high intellectual calibre.

Despite the success of the show, Buckley is perhaps best remembered for his extended television confrontation with liberal intellectual Gore Vidal, not on Firing Line, in which both men dispensed with intellectual discourse and viciously insulted each other.

Buckley is often credited as an important public intellectual of his time, and also for his more unwitting contribution to the kind of incendiary insult punditry we often see in contemporary talk TV, both right (Fox News etc) and left (Bill Maher etc).

Examine the legacy of Buckley the debater, and how he changed the way politics is discussed on television.

  • Watch Buckley debate Mark Halpern, who authored a book on the Kennedy assassination, and you'll see two of the most condescending non-royals in history. Here's an excerpt from a very famous debate, which I think the latter speaker won. – Tigey 8 years ago
  • I loved the debate between Buckley and Hitchens, where they discussed the 'woman's movement' and the Ayatollah. It showcased how a conservative can engage a liberal in a fruitful way. – Bilal 8 years ago
  • This is a great topic. Especially in this year, I find myself longing for the civility of Firing Line. There has been such an increase of hostility in politics recently -- on both sides -- that I feel if conservatives and liberals could just hear each other out without getting their proverbial hackles up, then that would go a long way toward restoring the respectful ideological atmosphere Buckley tried to foster. – John Wilson 8 years ago
  • I took this topic to write on and, what I notice, is some statement saying how long ago (usually measured in hours) since I clicked the little rectangle saying I would do this. I do not anticipate this being a quick essay, in fact, as is the case with the essay I have pending (4,200 words) and the one I'm just polishing up and reviewing several times (4,500 words) before submitting, I expect this one to be around the same length. I like the topic. I think it's a good way to address concern about political dialogue today, but it takes time to make it a thoughtful piece--something, I hope, readers can enjoy and add to their ways of thinking and talking about politics. I'm figuring that if I can write some 6-9 good essays a year for The Artifice (all more than 4,000 words in length) then that will be a good year. – Joseph Cernik 6 years ago