Tuned In

William F. Buckley

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I was on deadline most of the day yesterday, so I didn’t get around to noting the passing of Buckley, who–as Richard Corliss writes here–was as important a TV figure as he was a political and publishing one. Buckley was both a living anachronism and a man ahead of his time, as Richard points out; he exuded an old-fashioned WASPishness but also understood that in the mass-media age he had to present himself not just as a person but as a persona. He came on the public stage at the end of the Eisenhower era, after the brief period in the ’50s when intellectuals thought that TV could be a highbrow forum, and he kept alive the idea of the public intellectual through decades when it became fashionable for thinkers to run away snobbishly from TV. And in an age of programmed partisans, when you can practically read the daily talking points written on the palms of TV pundits, Buckley espoused ideas not because they fit someone’s platform or strategy but because he believed in them: leading him, for instance, to advocate legalizing marijuana in the ’90s.

Whether he worked in books, magazines or TV, Buckley showed that there is no such thing as a medium that can’t present ideas–only people who aren’t willing to.