The Times of London correspondent agreed that Frost had been outmaneuvered: “It was clear that David Frost let Mr Nixon escape in the interrogation . . . [Frost] finds less adulatory coverage this morning than his advance men expected. . . . [W]henever the matter strayed from his clip-board of notes he was not informed enough to counter some of Mr Nixon’s most brazen revisions. The main mysteries of Watergate are still intact.” The American public was equally unimpressed, as ratings dropped sharply after the first night. One poll showed Americans feeling slightly more sympathetic towards Nixon after the interview than they had before; another showed a small decrease in Nixon’s still-hefty “highly unfavorable” rating.
How did this one-day story suddenly become the most important event since the Civil War? Well, if there’s anything the media loves more than overhyping an anti-Republican story, it’s overhyping its own importance, so when they have a chance to do both at once, it’s no surprise that they get a little too excited.
As I wrote here last year, Frost/Nixon is an attempt to use history, assisted by plenty of dramatic license, to retrospectively turn a loss into a win. By all accounts, Frost/Nixon does a fine job of dramatizing the negotiations and preparation that led up to the interviews. And it’s hard to imagine Frank Langella, who plays a Brezhnev-looking Nixon, giving a bad performance. Still, the movie’s fundamental premise is just plain wrong.
The trailer says: “In 1974 President Nixon resigned to hide the truth. But one man had a few questions.” In fact, Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment; “the truth” was contained in congressional transcripts, court papers, and Oval Office tapes, and the great bulk of it came out before Frost and Nixon sat down for their “historic” clash. Some questions did remain unanswered: Why would anyone bug the DNC? Why didn’t Nixon burn the tapes? Where did the 18-1/2 minute gap come from? But Frost never brought these up.
All that his much-vaunted interviews “revealed” was the unsurprising truth that, even in retirement, Richard Nixon was the same Tricky Dick he had always been.
– Fred Schwarz is an NR deputy managing editor.