The L.A. Times

The conservative rich kid who found his place on television and in politics

How’s this for a story line? Rich kid grows up on the East Coast, not far from Manhattan. He’s utterly convinced of the rightness of his ideas and not at all shy about telling people who disagree with him that they’re wrong and making it abundantly clear that he thinks he’s smarter than they are. His out-there personality draws the attention of television producers, he gets a TV show, becomes a national celebrity and runs for office as a world-class provocateur, taking on both Democrats and the leaders of his own Republican Party. Even though he has never run for anything before, he runs for the biggest office on the ballot and he is quite clearly the intimidator, not the intimidated.

That’s the premise of MIT professor Heather Hendershot’s new book, and as you’ll have immediately realized, it’s a true story. The rich kid is Bill Buckley.

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The Atlantic Monthly

In the Age of Trump, No Wonder Republicans Miss William F. Buckley

The conservative thinker’s work is a reminder of how intellectually self-satisfied politicians and cable-news have become.

William F. Buckley Jr. could have made Donald Trump quiver with impotent rage. This is a guy who sent Ayn Rand postcards in liturgical Latin just to make her mad, and then bragged about it in her obituary. In part because of his trollish panache, the founder of National Review and longtime host of the television showFiring Line was a conservative mascot in life, and he has become mythologized in death. The 2016 election has made it clear that no one quite like Buckley is working in media today: Republicans are hurting for a cocksure slayer of pseudo-conservative invaders.

No wonder two Buckley retrospectives have come out this October. Open to Debate, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology media-studies professor Heather Hendershot, examines Buckley’s tenure on Firing Line and the diverse ideologies represented on the show.

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The National Review

Firing Line at 50


It is the contention of liberal scholar Heather Hendershot that Firing Line, the long-running television series hosted by William F. Buckley Jr., was bracing, original, occasionally electric, frequently heuristic, and, all weighty things considered, a major contribution to civilized discourse. Allowing for typical professorial understatement, I think she may be on to something.

Professor Hendershot, who teaches media studies at MIT, has just published a magisterial account not only of a television program, but also, more ambitiously, of the political culture from which it sprang and within which it thrived. She tells this story with style and insight and good humor, some of the latter borrowed from WFB but much of it her own. The gem of her hefty book is a long introduction that limns memorably the narrative line and the leading character, all of it based on what appears to be, as the leading character might have put it, Stakhanovite research.

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Kirkus Reviews

A starred review for Open To Debate

“A generous description and analysis of Firing Line, the weekly TV show hosted for three decades by conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.

Early on, Hendershot (Film and Media/MIT; What’s Fair on the Air?: Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest, 2011, etc.) identifies herself as a liberal, but her work is suffused with a fair and balanced approach to the show that eventually found its home on PBS, where it ran for most of its 33 years (1966-1999). The author’s research is formidable: interviews, major reliance on National Review (the magazine Buckley founded in 1955), and a comprehensive familiarity with the guests and topics on the show, a familiarity clearly acquired by many hours at the video monitor and many hours of reading transcripts.”

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Publishers Weekly

“In her view, Buckley was the “major conservative public intellectual” of post-WWII America, and Firing Line is “a model for what smart political TV once was,” contrasting with today’s on-air incivility…Using interviews and transcripts, Hendershot does more than tell the history of a uniquely influential show and personality; her thorough, compelling, and very readable book provides a three-decade journey through the center of the nation’s intellectual life.”

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The Wall Street Journal

Reading Bill Buckley in the Age of Trump

Clark S. Judge reviews ‘Open to Debate’ by Heather Hendershot and ‘A Torch Kept Lit’ edited by James Rosen.

“A second book featuring Bill Buckley takes up still another aspect of his public persona. The author, Heather Hendershot, is a professor of film and media at MIT. “Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on The Firing Line” is a survey and critique of the television program that did so much, over three decades, to make Buckley a celebrity presence in national life.”

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