In this December 2, 1985 episode of Firing Line, William F. Buckley talked with authors Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut about the importance of PEN in speaking out for writers imperiled in authoritarian governments in the Soviet Union, the Philippines, Turkey, South Africa, the Middle East and around the world. Though William F. Buckley was a prominent conservative spokesman, he founded Firing Line because he believed that it was important for individuals with diverse views to engage in a civil debate on ideas. In this episode, Buckley invited the left wing writers Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut to talk about their shared commitment to the freedom of expression.
Mailer pointed out that dictators understand the threat that writers are to authoritarian governments, so many prominent writers are jailed to silence their voices. Mailer mentioned Mila Aquilar, a Filipina poet who was arrested for speaking out against Ferdinand Marcos’ regime, as an example of a writer who PEN spoke out for. Both Mailer and Vonnegut spoke out for the necessity of fighting for freedom of expression.
Though Buckley and Mailer were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they developed a friendship. They often sailed off the coast of Connecticut, would occasionally correspond, and would share drinks and conversation. Both Buckley and Mailer had an intense dislike of fellow writer Gore Vidal. Mailer would periodically go on Firing Line to have a friendly debate Buckley on the issues.