>> Saturday, January 24, 2009

I first heard about the David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews when I heard about the play that was on the West End and later on Broadway. This past year, I did see a book at the Tacoma Library—Frost/Nixon: behind the scenes of the Nixon interviews. I checked it out but never got around to reading it. I hadn't heard much about this interview before or don't recall hearing about it. I asked my parents if they watched the interviews. They said they were too busy at the time, but they remember hearing about them.

Some of the movie is dramatized, as can be expected when you're compressing a story that took place over months into two hours. I think that's something some critics forget when they're watching dramas: it's not a documentary. The end credits actually has a disclaimer at the end noting that while this is based on a true story, some characters are composites and etc.

For some people such as Elizabeth Drew, the climax is Nixon's alleged "confession":

Frost did not in fact "nail" Nixon. The climactic moment of the movie (as in the play) has Nixon confessing to having participated in the cover-up of the famous break-in of the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June, 1972 by operatives hired by White House aides. But this "confession" is produced through a blatant distortion of what Nixon actually said in the interviews. At that particular moment, Frost was pressing Nixon to admit that he had more than made "mistakes," that there had in fact been wrongdoing, that crime might have been involved (a rather mild way of putting it). Then, through a sleight of hand, the script simply changes what Nixon actually said: the script of the play has Nixon admitting that he "...was involved in a 'cover-up,' as you call it." The ellipsis is of course unknown to the audience, and is crucial: What Nixon actually said was, "You're wanting to me to say that I participated in an illegal cover-up. No!"
For me, the climax is Nixon's famous quote: "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." I consider the "confession" that Elizabeth Drew critiques to be part of the denouement. Because Nixon's "when the president does it" quote, I think, is far more famous and actually has far more meaning politically than the specifics of Nixon's actions in Watergate.

What we've had with the recent Bush Administration was an presidential administration that embodied Nixon's "when the president does it, that means it is not illegal" perspective. An administration which had the NSA spy on ordinary Americans without warrants and unequivocally without good reason. An administration that has its apologists for breaking the law on torture and for accomplishing nothing at all (I'm talking to you Judith Miller!). An administration that misled the country into the Iraq War. And these are only the known "missteps" of the Bush Administration. There's probably much more that won't see the light of day for 30 plus years. And we can only hope at this point—HOPE!that there will be an investigation into the law breaking on torture. Hope that there will be an investigation on the NSA wiretapping.

Elizabeth Drew critiqued the film & play with it's title: "Peter Morgan specializes in stories that pit two figures against each other — David and Goliath-like — with the good guy prevailing." Ironically, Time magazine in 1977 titled an article about David Frost, "David Can Be a Goliath." Go figure.

Sir David Frost on The Daily Show:


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