By Gore Vidal
Truthdig was proud to be the home of Gore Vidal’s essays over the last six years. In a tribute to his legacy, we’ll be rerunning his great works. The following was first published March 20, 2008.
I can recall that day in the 1930s when a “news” (sic) magazine appeared in Washington, D.C.; it was called Newsweek: meant to be a counterbalance to Time Magazine’s uncontrollable malice. In due course the two became sadly alike as Vincent Astor morphed into Henry Luce: Was it something in the water? I once asked Henry Luce why he called Time a news magazine when it was simply Uncle Harry’s means of venting his rage (this was 1960 or so) at liberals, and “degenerate art” like the plays of Tennessee Williams—he had no answer. At Newsweek Vincent Astor was far too stupid to answer any such complaint. Now here we are in the Newsweek of 2008, and it’s still lousy. There have been a few decent writers in between that were less nutty than today’s Newsweek hacks.
But why is Newsweek currently lousy? Here’s an example provided by an editor who keeps a sharp eye on their crimes. He sent me their recent obituary of William F. Buckley, a hero to those who feared democracies.
Buckley bridled at bullies [we are assured]. But one of the rare times he lost his temper was debating Gore Vidal, who “got under his skin,” says son Chris. When Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi,” Buckley responded, “Now listen, you queer, you stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” But usually his public manners were genteel [I think they mean gentile]. With “Firing Line” guests who seemed nervous or over their heads, Buckley was gentle. Behind the scenes, he could show remarkable kindness. In 1980, a rising conservative star, Congressman Bob Bauman, was soliciting a 16-year-old [male] for oral sex. Bauman had been a gay-basher, and he instantly became a pariah. The next day, knowing what lay ahead for the disgraced congressman, Buckley quietly gave him an envelope containing $10,000. “He was a knightly man,” says Chris.
Unknown to them and everyone else who might read that publication, my views on many matters do not conform to the tired hacks who’ve taken over Newsweek, a magazine that has convinced itself that Bobby Kennedy Sr. was a great liberal. They love throwing about misunderstood terms like liberal and conservative that seldom suit their superficial, not to mention malicious, standards. Recently, their words of mourning for the fallen “genteel” paladin were incredible. As my editor friend knew that I seldom read the wilder attacks on me, he deconstructs Newsweek’s obituary of Buckley:
Parenthetically, I should note that, back in 1968, ABC TV had asked me and Buckley to “debate” each other at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Although Buckley was often drunk and out of control, he was always a spontaneous liar on any subject that his dizzy brain might extrude. When we were in Chicago during the Republican convention, the Chicago police decided it would be fun to attack the young co-ed demonstrators in Grant Park, not far from our studio. It was one of the worst displays of police brutality I’ve ever seen, and so I said on air; he liked what the police had done; in no time, the whole country was as shocked as I, but not Buckley. On air he was hissing like a cobra against the young people in Grant Park because, he said, they were egging on the Viet Cong to kill American Marines. They were not, of course. Buckley was a world-class American liar on the far right who would tell any lie he thought he could get away with. Years of ass-kissing famous people in the press and elsewhere had given him, he felt, a sort of license to libelously slander those hated liberals who, from time to time, smoked him out as I did in Chicago, when I defended the young people in Grant Park by denying that they were Nazis and that the only “pro- or crypto-Nazi” I could think of was himself. He sued me and got nowhere. He sued Esquire, in which our words appeared. By then the coming right-wing surge was in view. And so Esquire cravenly agreed to settle with him for a few paragraphs worth of free advertising for his weird little magazine The National Review, hardly the great victory he claimed.
Now, to Newsweek’s obituary of this late dishonorable American in which my editor-friend assures me that his brain-dead son Christopher had a hand: “Buckley bridled at bullies.” And who was the bully in context? Myself. He was also an expert at changing indefensible contexts. Buckley maintained that I supported revolutionaries who favored murdering U.S. Marines. Yet all the talk of Nazis etc. was started by Buckley. There was no lie he would not tell to get back at those who defeated him in debate.
The current editors at Newsweek appear to have listened eagerly to his son Christopher, who is guiding them to a benign view of what had been a most hysterical queen (WFB), much admired by a media that takes everyone at his own evaluation of himself as they did with Capote, who told them that he was a great writer like Proust (pronounced Prowst) and the hacks ate it up.
The correct assessment of any reputation today is so far from plausible reality that it might be a good thing if the hacks of a magazine like Newsweek steered clear of characterizing those disliked by the advertisers; hence his creepy son’s depiction of me as a “bully” when I was simply attending to one, and then—o, joy!—Buckley called me a “queer” and actually threatened me with physical violence, so great was his testosterone level. Next, the loyal son, suspecting that the pejorative use of “queer” is politically incorrect in mag-land, Christopher rambles into a story about his father’s kindness to a Mr. Bauman who had lost his seat in Congress after the congressman had been caught while soliciting Oral Sex from a 16-year-old male (note how prurient Newsweek’s prose is, in describing undesirable people). Chris weeps into his computer as he describes how Dad gave the poor sinner of the flesh an envelope containing $10,000 (I bet?) in cash adding, mysteriously, “He was a knightly man”: Who was—the cocksucker recipient of Buckley’s charity? Or his admirer, Mr. Buckley himself?—Bauman was very right wing, it is said. RIP WFB—in hell.
The unique mess that our republic is in can be, in part, attributed to a corrupt press whose roots are in mendacious news (sic) magazines like Time and Newsweek, aided by tabloids that manufacture fictional stories about actual people. This mingling of opinion and fiction has undone a media never devoted to truth. Hence, the ease with which the Republican smear-machine goes into action when they realize that yet again the party’s permanent unpopularity with the American people will cause them defeat unless they smear individually those who question the junk that the media has put into so many heads. Anyone who says “We gotta fight ‘em over there or we’re gonna have to fight ‘em over here.” This absurdity has been pronounced by every Republican seeking high office. The habit of lying is now a national style that started with “news” magazines that was further developed by pathological liars that proved to be “good” Entertainment on TV. But a diet of poison that has done none of us any good.
I speak ex cathedra now, ad urbe et orbe, with a warning that no society so marinated in falsity can long survive in a real world.
Truthdig / Zuade Kaufman