Buckley published my letter without my permission in National Review. This drove me crazy. I had written (in confidence, I thought) that I had just been turned down for the job as The Nation’s Washington editor—something I really didn’t want people I knew to know. Gore Vidal had written a then-infamous, rather anti-Semitic essay in The Nation’s 125th anniversary issue, and I also told Buckley that I had, much to my chagrin, agreed more with Neocon sourpuss Norman Podhoretz’s attack on Vidal and The Nation than with Nation editor Victor Navasky’s defense of said article. I had told Navasky this at the time—but I didn’t want anyone thinking myself disloyal to the man who had helped to launch my career, and would become a close friend and frequent mentor (as well as the chairman of this magazine). Rather presumptuously, moreover, I saluted the “care and grace” Buckley brought to the topic of anti-Semitism.
I was shocked by the cavalier disregard with which Buckley felt free to treat what I understood, and certainly intended, to be private correspondence. I had never given Buckley permission to publish it, and having followed the arguments over “fair use” law that tortured J. D. Salinger’s biographers, I felt pretty sure he had no legal right to do so.
I complained; he apologized. End of story. . . . I wish.
It turns out that when Buckley decided to violate your privacy, he didn’t hold back. He republished my letter in the book version of the essay, too. When I complained again, he apologized again, blamed a printer’s error, and then published it again in the paperback version. He appeared to enjoy my outrage.
In 1992, I published a history of punditry, and Buckley, naturally, figured rather prominently in its pages. We had had a relatively pleasant interview, and I was awfully kind, all things considered. Two years later, he wrote me out of the blue to say that he had “sighed but accepted as inevitable the populist blather about my superordinate concern for skiers in Gstaad and yachtsmen in the Caribbean.” What bothered him was my description of him as a “self-styled aristocrat.” He said he would be “grateful if [I] would explain to [him] how [I] came upon that designation” since he had never referred to himself as such, adding, “(which incidentally, aristocrats would never do).” Then came a particularly Buckley-esque afterthought: “Ah. Maybe that’s it! Because I have never called myself an aristocrat, I therefore take on that mannerism of an aristocrat—becoming one, to be sure, self-styled.” He asked how best to spot such a self-styled aristocrat. “Share your secrets. Be a redistributionist á outrance,” he begged before offering his “cordial regards.”