Times Suppressed News of William F. Buckley's Suicide Impulse

Christopher Buckley's family tell-all has already made him some enemies. Will people look more kindly on the writer's crusade to break the news of his father's suicide urge?

Buckley told the Washington Post his memoir has eroded his standing within Manhattan society, even prior to its release. It depicts his father Willilam F. Buckley Jr. relieving himself out of a car window, ditching Christopher's Yale graduation in boredom and, apparently suffering dementia, planning a party for dead associates.

The book also reveals that the conservative icon considered suicide in his last days, amid emphysema and a heavy regimen of pills, before heeding the Catholic Church's prohibition against the act.

It turns out Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times Book Review nearly broke this news first in the Times, two days after William F. Buckley's February death — until Christopher Buckley strong-armed him.

Tanenhaus was under pressure from senior Times editors to write a story, but agreed to sit on the news after Buckley threatened to cut off his access to his father's papers, Buckley said. Tanenhaus needed that access because he was writing a biography of the late Buckley, a conflict of interest between his duties as a Times editor and as a book author.

Maybe Tanenhaus sold his editors the same line Chris Buckley used on him: That William Buckley disclosed his suicide thoughts only for a book, not for use in as a one-off newspaper story. But the net effect of Christopher Buckley's arm-twisting was that he was able to publish the news about his father's impulse before Tanenhaus.

Buckley told the Post he believed the information would be twisted by blogs — by us! — if the Times published it out of context:

"It would have been a nightmare," Buckley says as lunch draws to a close. He feared the inevitable headline: "Buckley Contemplated Suicide in Last Days." "Run that through the blogosphere and see what Gawker makes of it: 'Lion of the Right Offed Self.' "

Instead, the news appeared weeks later in the gossip section of the New York Post, a seemingly odd venue for someone trying to protect his father's image against sensationalism (the headline: "BILL BUCKLEY'S MORBID END"). The item was careful to credit Buckley's book. Go figure.

[Washington Post]