In 1968, the country was in turmoil, as the Republicans and Democrats convened to choose their presidential nominees. ABC News was in last place in the ratings, and they were struggling to make a splash. So they chose to court controversy by including fiery debates between conservative William F. Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal as part of their political convention coverage.
That’s the backdrop for Best of Enemies, the best political documentary of the year, which is now available on Netflix. It’s a terrific film for political junkies as well as those interested in the birth of modern media.
The lively exchanges between Buckley and Vidal — in which they spend more time insulting each other than discussing actual policy — shook up ABC News’ ratings and presaged the loud hyper-partisan news and opinion coverage we see today. It’s a hoot to watch the two go at it with their patrician affectations and rapier wit, and anchor Howard Smith’s awkward reactions add to the hilarity.
Filmmakers Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon treat the two men at opposite ends of the political spectrum fairly, although a couple of the commentators make sure to get their digs in at Buckley. The directors also make sure to draw the lines connecting the 1968 debates with our modern talk radio and passionate news/opinion coverage — and they do so effectively.
Check out Best of Enemies: it’s one of the rare documentaries you’ll want to see again after it’s over.