Buckley and Vidal: One More Round


In case the Christmas spirit deluded you into thinking that love and reconciliation had conquered the media world, the next issues of the National Review and Esquire will confirm that old grudges die hard. Each magazine is printing an editor’s note regarding the latest chapter in the decades-long feud between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal.

The bad blood between these highbrow, silk-voiced, Anglophile spokesmen of their respective ideologies goes back at least to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when the two appeared live on ABC.

Amid a heated discussion of the tactics used by Chicago police against anti-war demonstrators, Vidal called Buckley a “pro-crypto Nazi,” and Buckley warned, “Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a pro-crypto Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face.”

The following August, Buckley published an essay in Esquire called “On Experiencing Gore Vidal.” Vidal sued over the piece but, according to the notice that both Esquire and National Review are publishing, his case was “thrown out of court.” Instead, Vidal answered his nemesis in Esquire‘s pages the next month with “A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley Jr.”

Buckley sued the magazine over the Vidal piece, claiming libel; he eventually settled for an apology from Esquire and court costs. But last year, Esquire published a collection of writing called Esquire’s Big Book of Great Writing that contained the Vidal essay.

Now, Esquire publisher Heart Communications—”without any admission of liability”—is eating a menu of crow.

Besides paying $65,000 to Buckley and his lawyers, Esquire‘s publisher must destroy all remaining copies of the book containing the Vidal essay, provide the 1969 Buckley essay to anyone who requests it, and publish an open letter in the February 2005 issue. The letter says of the Vidal piece, “Present management was not aware of the history of this litigation, and greatly regrets the re-publication of the libels in the current collection.”