Such analysis holds true today, where the counter-pointing and provocations of the worst cable news “discussions” are the norm rather than the exception. But it’s also important not to wax too rhapsodic for the “good old days” when, as Best of Enemies notes almost in passing, the only people reading the news (and determining what was news) tended to be people not unlike Vidal and Buckley: rich white guys who weren’t exactly taking a ground-level view of the world they were covering. And the centrist position that dominated that period’s news often doesn’t truly tell the story; you’ll often see more thoughtful, detailed, and well-researched reporting from so-called commentators like John Oliver and Rachel Maddow than you’ll hear from outlets that pride themselves as “straight news.”
But in the vital arena of debating issues, the current media landscape fails, just as Vidal and Buckley did all those years ago. “There’s also the terrible thing about this medium, that hardly anyone listens,” Vidal despaired in that final debate, and he’s right, but it’s more than that. Put in front of a camera in the company of a foe, and even the best and brightest of us will feel the pull to jab, to slam, and to burn — to perform. And if our politics need one thing right now, it’s fewer performers, and more thinkers.
Best of Enemies is out today in limited release.