“While I take issue with much of what you say, I tremendously admire the marvelous way you say it.”
–Letter to William F. Buckley Jr. from a Firing Line viewer, 1966
The Hoover Institution Library & Archives exhibition Civil Discourse: William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line, 1966–1999 commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of William F. Buckley Jr.’s legendary television program. With 1,505 episodes aired over thirty-three years, Firing Line first revolutionized, then set the standard, for televised public affairs shows. Television’s longest-running political talk show with a single host, Firing Line featured William F. Buckley Jr., a conservative and recognized master of debate, in conversation with many of the most remarkable—and often the most radical—public figures of his day. Throughout the show's long and influential run, Buckley hosted statesmen, politicians, activists, economists, journalists, scholars, authors, religious figures, philosophers, poets, and actors whose opinions ranged across the political and ideological spectrum. Prominent guests who appeared on Firing Line included Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Muhammad Ali, Allen Ginsberg, Milton Friedman, Joan Baez, Truman Capote, Jesse Jackson, Betty Friedan, and Norman Mailer. The success of the show proved that televising the civil exchange of conflicting but considered opinions held undeniable powers to entertain, inform, and, ultimately, influence public opinion in America.
Drawing on the rich broadcast records of Firing Line at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, the exhibition displays video, photographs, transcripts, newsletters, viewer correspondence, and publicity materials to spotlight the memorable encounters and remarkable exchanges that kept American viewers of all political persuasions coming back every week for more than three decades.
Civil Discourse: William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line, 1966–1999, opens Tuesday, April 19, 2016, and runs through August 20, 2016. The exhibition is open to the public, free of charge, Tuesday–Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion (next to Hoover Tower) on the Stanford University campus. Parking on campus is free on Saturdays. For directions and parking, click here.