He’s not like those other conservatives.Aug 3, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 44 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
‘It’s as if he never existed,” a friend of a certain age (same as mine) said to me not long ago. He was referring to William F. Buckley Jr. When he died in 2008, at age 82, Buckley was eulogized as the most consequential American journalist of the second half of the last century: editor for 35 years of National Review, founding father of the conservative movement, bosom pal of Ronald Reagan, author of many bestselling books, and host of Firing Line, the longest-running single-host public affairs show in television history.
From the 1950s through the ’90s, he seemed to be everywhere all the time. Now, my friend complained, Buckley rarely comes up in public discussion, and it’s not clear that younger journalists, tweeting and Snapchatting and texting and Instagramming all the livelong day, have more than a vague notion of who he was.
I wanted to reply, “Sic transit journalism, pal,” but I would have been as wrong as my friend was. Not all hacks vanish with their work when the production line shuts down, and Buckley is one of the rare ones who, to judge by recent stirrings, is still bankable.
Earlier last month W.W. Norton published Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship that Shaped the Sixties, by a historian named Kevin M. Schultz, whose emphatic theme is seen in the subtitle. And July 31 will bring the New York and Los Angeles premiere of Best of Enemies, a documentary about a series of televised debates Buckley had with the novelist-gadfly Gore Vidal during the momentous political conventions of 1968.
The thesis of the filmmakers, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, is that Buckley’s appearances with Vidal that summer “changed TV forever.” If you believe that you’ll believe anything—even that Buckley and Norman Mailer shaped the sixties with their difficult friendship. But authors and moviemakers can’t move units any longer without wild overstatement. And it’s interesting to ponder why Buckley among all his contemporaries should be chosen for the grandiose claims that Schultz, Neville, and Gordon make on his behalf.
There was lots of news in 1968—a year of race riots and political assassinations, occurring against the backdrop of a bloody war. As the party conventions approached, it was assumed the news divisions of the three networks would continue their quadrennial custom of gavel-to-gavel coverage, bumping from the afternoon and evening hours all the regularly scheduled and highly profitable soap operas and sitcoms. Whether this quaint custom was undertaken from a sense of civic obligation or just because the network’s executives and journalists liked to attend jolly political events is a question that has never been answered.
In any case, ABC, always the ratings loser in news and other programming, saw an opening. It announced before the conventions began that it would condense its coverage to one and a half hours a night—grossly irresponsible by the high-minded standards of the day and, by the standards of ours, unimaginably Homeric. But it made good money sense. While other nets would be boring viewers with roll call votes and platform planks, normal Americans could seek refuge at ABC, thrilling to the adventures of Peyton Place and The Flying Nun. And when ABC’s nightly convention coverage did appear, at the very end of prime time, the network would offer analysis by Buckley and Vidal. ABC’s ratings soared.
The pleasures of Best of Enemies consist in watching the recovered video of these encounters. They are so entertaining, and handled so deftly by Neville and Gordon, that they can almost bear the ponderous weight of the movie’s thesis—the one about changing TV forever. “The seeds [were] planted for our present media landscape,” Gordon has written, “when the spectacle trumps the content of [the] argument.”
It’s arguable, but unprovable, that ABC’s success in whittling down its coverage to the bare minimum, and replacing a comprehensive report on the convention’s progress with left-versus-right gasbaggery, sent a signal that other networks couldn’t ignore. Nowadays, nearly 50 years later, any network news division would be lucky to get even an hour of primetime during a national convention. But the disintegration of TV political journalism—from jowly old Walter Cronkite to sputtering Sean Hannity—has been an inevitable consequence of technology and economics. Even if ABC avoided the gasbaggery in 1968, we would still bear the burden of MSNBC and Fox today.
1:05 PM, Apr 25, 2015 • By JIM SWIFT
Senior Editor Andrew Ferguson joined C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb for their Q&A series to discuss his career in journalism, the founding of the Weekly Standard, his writing process, and stories from his time on the 2016 campaign trail.
Watch the video below:
Oh my.Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Boy, that didn’t take long. Over the span of a few short days in late January and early February, three members of the top tier of Republican presidential candidates demonstrated why they’ll never be president. They didn’t do anything to disqualify themselves directly, just revealed the traits that will make them appear unsuitable to most voters by the time the campaign really heats up, say, when the presidential election is a mere 18 months away.
Feb 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 20 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The film Selma, which chronicles the pivotal battle in the civil rights movement, is currently in theaters and has even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The film has an unlikely critic, however—PBS host and former White House aide to Lyndon Johnson Bill Moyers.
We can dream, can’t we?Oct 20, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 06 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Kingsley Amis, the British novelist, once explained that everything that had gone wrong with his country in the second half of the last century could be summarized in the word “workshop.” His point is sound. No two syllables better conjure up the mandatory “sharing,” the regimented bonhomie and bogus cheerfulness, the mincing
The crackpot social science of generational analysis Sep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
As far as newspaper corrections go, it was a whopper. On August 24, the editors of the New York Times sucked the air out of a windy essay that had blown through its pages a few days before. The original article bore the headline “Generation Nice.” It was adorned with color photos of fresh-faced teens and twenty-somethings. All of them looked nice. In case Times readers were confused (they’re not getting any younger), the subheadline drove the point home: “The Millennials Are Generation Nice.” And that was the theme of the article, too.
Haven’t we seen this movie before?Jul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
It has been five years now since America got the news, or was supposed to: Henceforth our children would enjoy a revolutionary new approach to learning in the public schools, in the form of national educational standards. They’re called the Common Core State Standards, or Common Core for short—or if you’re in a particular hurry, CCSS. Why national standards should bear the official title “State Standards” is one of the many peculiarities that make Common Core interesting to think about.
Wrigley Field and the national pastime. May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
You can tell George Will is a serious baseball fan because—I wish I could find another way to put this—he is serious about baseball. The statement isn’t (quite!) as fatuous as it sounds. Lots of people who profess their love of baseball are mere romantics and mythologists.
How Andrew Wyeth saw the world, and himself. May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Was Andrew Wyeth so celebrated because he was so misunderstood, or did it work the other way around? His reputation seems ill-fitting, whether you consider him one of the great American painters of the last century, as many laymen and a few professionals do, or a kitsch monger and conman, as many more professionals and a few sniffy, wised-up laymen do.
The perpetual adulation of Herblock.Feb 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 21 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Herblock: The Black & the White, a documentary about the editorial cartoonist Herbert Block, had its cable premiere on HBO last week, and we can expect repeated showings for many weeks to come, creating a low-buzz Herblockfest interspersed dizzily among re-airings of Girls.
The Books and Arts Podcast is hosted by Philip Terzian.8:15 AM, Dec 27, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The new WEEKLY STANDARD Books & Arts Podcast, with literary editor Philip Terzian and his guest, senior editor Andrew Ferguson. This week they discuss Ferguson's recent cover story on Ambrose Bierce.
The brave life and mysterious death of Ambrose Bierce. Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
One golden autumn morning 100 years ago, a few blocks from where I’m writing these words in northwest Washington, D.C., Ambrose Bierce said goodbye to his secretary, turned the key in the door to his apartment on Logan Circle, and went off to God knows where.
Remember when the battle of the sexes was a laughing matter?Aug 12, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 45 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
I'm showing my age again, but I can remember, just barely, when we had the war between men and women. Not a war, but the war: eternal and (of course) metaphorical, a fight without massed ranks of infantry or elaborate flanking maneuvers or formal parleys among belligerents.