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Frost/Nixon (2008) Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University.

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1 Frost/Nixon (2008) Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University

2 Importance What if Conan O’Brien landed a series of interviews with former President George W. Bush? And what if, towards the end of HOURS of slightly interesting political banter, the president admitted that there had been no real evidence to go to war with Iraq? That’s what the Frost-Nixon interviews were and that is the premise of Ron Howard’s 2008’s academy- award nominated film.

3 Original Interviews The original Frost/Nixon interviews were broadcast in 1977 and are available on DVD. Once Nixon had received a presidential pardon from his successor there was no chance he would ever stand trial for the crimes he was accused of. The interviews were a chance for the nation to have the kind of catharsis a trial can provide. Why did Nixon agree to these interviews? He saw Frost as hardly possessing the experience and gravitas to conduct the interview on his terms. Nixon, on the other hand, saw himself as a savvy, veteran of the intersection of media and politics and he could use the forum to help shape the judgment of history and reinvent, if not exonerate himself – plus the money wasn’t bad!

4 Checkbook Journalism Should a journalist pay money to a subject for the right to publish his or her story? Nixon’s agent Irving “Swifty” Lazar had already negotiated a deal for Nixon’s memoirs but felt that a television interview would reach more people. When the networks found out that Frost paid $600,000 for the interviews, they refused to participate forcing Frost to syndicate the programs himself by purchasing air-time on individual stations.

5 Origins and Structure The film is derived from the stage play of the same name and stars both actors from the London and Broadway productions: Michael Sheen and Frank Langella. The filmmakers convert the play into a boxing match as David Edelstein noted in his review of the film: “[They] frame the whole spectacle as a championship boxing match with coaches in each man’s corner (Kevin Bacon as Nixon man Jack Brennan, Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt as Team Frost’s James Reston Jr. and Bob Zelnick). Frost and Nixon have one huge thing in common: They each need a showbiz comeback. But Nixon’s object is to redeem himself (or, failing that, run out the clock), Frost’s is to get Nixon to admit that he was what he’d assured the American people he wasn’t (and would never, thanks to Gerald Ford, be convicted of being): a crook. There’s also a Rocky element: Will the playboy and gadabout Frost (played by Michael Sheen) cram for the final interview on Watergate and score a knockout, or will he let Nixon continue to talk circles around him and win on points?”

6 Watergate Revelations After a series segments on Vietnam and other foreign policy areas, the final interviews focused on Watergate. Both Frost and Nixon knew that the Watergate interviews would be crucial for achieving their disparate goals. Frost was especially prepared and his research assistants had uncovered new information regarding Nixon White House Special Counsel Charles Colson. Nixon admitted that he did unethical things, but "defended" himself with the statement, "When the President does it, it's not illegal!“ Frost was shocked by this statement, and asked if the president took part in a cover-up, at which point the film shows Nixon’s aide stopping the recording as Nixon was visibly unable to answer. After Nixon and his aide confer in a side room, Nixon returns to the interview, and admits that he participated in a cover-up and that he "let the American people down.“ Yet Nixon biographer Jonathan Aitken recalled that "Frost did not ambush Nixon during the final interview into a damaging admission of guilt. What the former president 'confessed' about Watergate was carefully pre-planned. It was only with considerable help and advice from his adversary's team that Frost managed to get much more out of Nixon, in the closing sequences, by reining in his fierce attitude and adopting a gentler approach.“ So the question is did Frost get the better of Nixon or did Nixon get the better of Frost?

7 Inaccuracies Film imperatives such as structure, story, and time often give rise to factual inaccuracies in historical films. For example, the late-night phone call from a drunk Nixon to Frost was deemed by Aitken, “from start to finish, an artistic invention by the scriptwriter Peter Morgan.” David Edelstein in the New York Magazine explained that the film overstated the importance of the Frost-Nixon interviews: “ [the film] elevates the 1977 interviews Nixon gave (or, rather, sold, for an unheard-of $600,000) to English TV personality David Frost into a momentous event in the history of politics and media." Edelstein also noted that "with selective editing, Morgan makes it seem as if Frost got Nixon to admit more than he actually did."

8 Public Reaction A Gallup poll conducted after the interviews aired showed that 69% of the public thought that Nixon was still trying to cover up 72% still thought he was guilty of obstruction of justice. 75% thought he deserved no further role in public life.

9 Conclusion: Judgment of History What can we learn from Frost-Nixon? The film is important because it demonstrates how public officials are concerned about how history will treat them after their service concludes. They write book, do media appearances, and agree to interviews in order to paint their service in a positive light. At the same time we learn about how journalism is a business and how careers can be made and undone by historical events.

10 Sources Aitken, Jonathan, “Nixon v. Frost: The True Story of What Really Happened When a British Journalist Bullied a TV Confession Out of a Disgraced Ex-President,” Daily Mail, January 24, 2009. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1127039/Nixon-v-Frost-The-true-story-really- happened-British-journalist-bullied-TV-confession-disgraced-ex-President.htmlNixon v. Frost: The True Story of What Really Happened When a British Journalist Bullied a TV Confession Out of a Disgraced Ex-Presidenthttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1127039/Nixon-v-Frost-The-true-story-really- happened-British-journalist-bullied-TV-confession-disgraced-ex-President.html Edelstein, David, “Unholy Alliance: Frost/Nixon’s iconic TV moment seems quaint after Couric/Palin,” New York Magazine, November 30, 2008. http://nymag.com/movies/reviews/52586/http://nymag.com/movies/reviews/52586/ King, Susan, “The Many Faces of Nixon,” Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2008. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/dec/12/entertainment/et-nixon12The Many Faces of Nixon http://articles.latimes.com/2008/dec/12/entertainment/et-nixon12


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