The British journalist David Frost died over the weekend, and obituaries have predictably emphasized his 1977 interviews with Richard Nixon, describing him as the “interviewer who got Nixon to apologize for Watergate” or even “the TV host who captured a president.” Some version of this will remain the one-sentence summary of David Frost’s career until the end of time. But, for the record, those who watched the interviews when they came out almost universally found them dull and lacking any new information. (Just as happened with Inherit the Wind, it is entirely possible to win the trial but lose the dramatization.)
The most interesting thing about Frost and Nixon is that together, they achieved the almost impossible feat of allowing a copy editor to become front-page news. Before the interviews, Nixon had signed to write his memoirs for Grosset & Dunlap, and in early 1978 The Trib, a short-lived New York tabloid published by Leonard Saffir (who had served NR’s favorite senator, Jim Buckley, as press secretary, chief of staff, and campaign manager), trumpeted a scoop: David Frost himself had been hired to edit the book.
The scoop turned out to be half right: A man named David Frost was editing the memoirs, but he was a staff copy editor for G&D, not the television host. I actually interviewed for a job with him a few years later, and he had a framed copy of this article on his wall. In any case, the mistake, along with a brutal winter and the difficulty of changing New Yorkers’ newspaper habits, led to The Trib’s demise soon afterwards.