Independent Lens | Best of Enemies
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Credit: ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Watch Monday, October 3, 2016 at 10:30pm on WMHT-TV

In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC News hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. Gore Vidal, a Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult, their explosive exchanges devolving into vitriolic name-calling. Live and unscripted, they kept viewers riveted as Nixon became the Republican nominee in Miami and violence rocked the Democratic convention in Chicago. Ratings for ABC News skyrocketed and a new era in contentious public discourse was born. Directed by Robert Gordon and Academy Award-winning Sundance Film Festival alum Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom), Best of Enemies spotlights the birth of the highbrow blood sport practiced by today’s ever-present pundit television. 


“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.”


Visit the Best of Enemies page on Independent Lens, which features more information about the film. Best of Enemies will be available for online viewing on the site from October 4-November 2, 2016.