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The Moment That Political Debates on TV Turned to Spectacle

A new documentary explores the infamous 1968 dispute between William Buckley and Gore Vidal.

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In the summer of 1968, America was in a critical place. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, protests surrounding race were proliferating, and the Vietnam War continued, unpopular as ever. Ahead of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, ABC was last in ratings and decided to call in polar opposites Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. to debate each other. Vidal was a life-long leftist while Buckley was at the helm of a new conservative movement, and their televised dispute deteriorated into a shouting match filled with personal attacks. Viewers were riveted, and the episode served to alter the way that politics was televised. This short excerpt from the documentary Best of Enemies, which explores this moment that television changed forever, includes clips and commentary from the debate. The full filmhas its broadcast premiere October 3 at 10 p.m on Independent Lens on PBS.