William F. Buckley's 'Firing Line' Returns With Margaret Hoover
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
"Firing Line" with William F. Buckley Jr. ran for over 33 years, mostly on public television. He was the most glittering conservative in America. And he interviewed, yes, other conservatives such as Goldwater, Reagan, Thatcher and Kissinger but also people on the left including Noam Chomsky, Dr. Spock, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and some names that might surprise you - Allen Ginsberg, Groucho, Marx, Muhammad Ali.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FIRING LINE")
WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY: Mr. Ali, what makes you believe that the same country that glorified Joe Louis would want to persecute you?
MUHAMMAD ALI: First of all, I'd like to thank you for the brief introduction. You covered a lot of space in such a short time.
SIMON: "Firing Line" ceased production in 1999, but it has returned with a new host, Margaret Hoover, the conservative writer and commentator who is also an advocate for gay rights and, yes, the great granddaughter of President Herbert Hoover. Margaret Hoover joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
MARGARET HOOVER: Thank you very much for having me.
SIMON: Bill Buckley Jr. - big seat to fill?
HOOVER: Indeed, it is. And the first thing I tell everyone is don't worry. I'm not going to try to be Bill Buckley.
SIMON: Well, who are you going to try and be?
HOOVER: Just myself - look; what Bill Buckley did - this is not so much about trying to recreate a person as much as it is about recreating the tradition of "Firing Line" and returning the tradition of "Firing Line" to television. Bill Buckley, aside from really becoming the leading personality of the modern American conservative movement - the other thing he did is that he had, as you said, people from - that he adamantly disagreed with - radicals.
I mean, one of the things at the end of his life people said that Bill Buckley did best and that the left appreciated the most was that the only place that real radicals and socialists would get airtime was on "Firing Line." And he did it in a way that was respectful, provided a space for an extended dive into ideas. And it's that sort of long-form back-and-forth that we think television listeners are interested in hearing and that you don't get on television as much anymore.
SIMON: Well, you also have radicals, which is to say - let's say not just Nancy Pelosi or Dick Durbin but, well, Noam Chomsky is still with us.
HOOVER: Well, one of the things - I don't know if we'll have Noam Chomsky, but I actually would delight in that. One of the things I'd like to do is using clips from the original "Firing Line" in every one of our "Firing Lines." There are 1,500 episodes of "Firing Line" for the full course of its 33-year run. And where we can have original "Firing Line" guests on paired with their original "Firing Line" appearances, we're absolutely going to do that. So Noam Chomsky is a possibility, but there are many more - I mean, Fareed Zakaria, Henry Kissinger, Arianna Huffington. You know, really leading lights from the left and the right have been on "Firing Line," are still with us. And, to the extent that they're still contributing to our public debates, they're absolutely going to be welcome back to the show, which didn't answer your question about whether we'll have radicals and progressives on. And the answer is yes.
SIMON: OK. Thanks for getting there.
HOOVER: A long walk for a short drink of water (laughter).
SIMON: Now, would you let a guest get away with that?
HOOVER: (Laughter) It's a good question. I'm new to this. But I - as long as it was adding value and they got the answer, I think that's part of the exchange.
SIMON: OK. Let me ask you about your first show - guest is departing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Almost the entire program is devoted to his thoughts on how to improve the lives of poor people in the United States - in other words, not the kind of news-driven questions like what's your relationship like with President Trump or will your party hold onto the House? What do you say to those who find Paul Ryan an inauthentic expert on the subject of how to improve the lives of poor people in the United States?
HOOVER: Well, I challenge them to watch the program and see if they still think he's inauthentic after that. The very first "Firing Line" that William F. Buckley recorded entailed the question of how the federal government's federal policy programs could alleviate poverty in the United States countered by Buckley's real skepticism that it would be successful. That in contrast 52 years later to Paul Ryan, a leading conservative elected in this country, Buckley was for scrapping them all. Paul Ryan isn't at all.
And if you watch that show, you'll see that he has some very sincere, earnest and well-thought-out policy proposals and solutions for how it should spend its billions of dollars that it allocates towards antipoverty programs. He has this line that he uses often where he says, we measure what we put into the system - in other words, how much we spend. But we don't measure how successful we are in terms of the outputs.
SIMON: I have to ask. You did not ask Speaker Ryan about his party's opposition to gun control at a time when there seems to be a new mass shooting every few weeks. Why?
HOOVER: The show is about poverty. I mean, here's the thing - we're going to have a lot of interesting people come through and there are going to be a lot of questions that people want to hear about. And, you know, we are very clear that this was conversation about...
SIMON: I think it's safe to say people might want to hear about that.
HOOVER: Yeah. You know, people also want to hear why he hasn't stood up to Donald Trump. People also want to hear why they don't think that, you know, that Congress has served as an equal and separate branch of government. You know, I think if people watch the show, they will see an interesting back-and-forth. They'll see, you know, the speaker of the House talking about something they probably haven't heard him talk about. And they can take their own judgments away about whether they agree with his federal antipoverty programs and policies or not.
SIMON: Who's your Groucho Marx or Muhammad Ali? - Who...
HOOVER: Oh, you'll just have to stay tuned. We do have a good show that we're cooking up that will be around the question of whether comedy has run into a wall with some of the campus free speech questions. But you're going to have to stay tuned. We have some good ones that we're cooking up.
SIMON: Margaret Hoover, new host of the new "Firing Line" on PBS, thanks so much for being with us.
HOOVER: Many thanks for having me, Scott.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.