Best of Enemies

ABC NEWS - ELECTION COVERAGE 1968 - "Convention Coverage" - Airdate in August 1968. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) WILLIAM BUCKLEY;GORE VIDAL

By: Mark Barber

In 1968, an ailing ABC network hired progressive author Gore Vidal and conservative intellectual William F. Buckley to shed some light on the 1968 Democratic and Republican Party Conventions.  This dialectical meeting of minds changed the way politics is mediated through television.  It overemphasized opinion and discussion, bringing about the birth of punditry.

Best of Enemies tells the riveting story behind this “political odd couple.”  Despite their toxically unamicable relationship, Buckley and Vidal shared similar backstories.  Both were born into elite families.  Both also ran for political office.  Irrespective of these similarities, the two loathed each other.

Best of Enemies captures this seething hatred with a familiar form.  Combining archival footage and interviews, the documentary traces the history of punditry back to these crucial televised debates.  On the one hand, the doc’s entertainment value owes much to the archive footage, given the debates’ slew of invectives.  On the other hand, the interviews are often humorously anecdotal, featuring friends and family of both pundits.

Best of Enemies is a well-paced and insightful documentary, but its thesis cannot be understated.  Offering a genealogy of the current subjective atmosphere of political news reportage, Best of Enemies locates the lack of factual content in punditry to the Vidal-Buckley debates, where the participants rarely had anything relevant or compelling to say about either convention.  While the conversations themselves are entertaining, they are symptomatic of the growing problem of similar debates today on CNN and Fox News.

Best of Enemies arrives at a time when the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primaries are just around the corner.  While the doc does not offer an inoculation to the current partisanship plaguing the contemporary news media landscape, it does offer a compelling historical anecdote.

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