Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews (Liberation)
Frost/Nixon, the stage play by Peter Morgan and the 2008 movie adaptation, found drama in the story behind the historic interviews conducted by British talk show host and journalist David Frost with American President Richard Nixon in 1977, just a few years after his resignation in disgrace. It’s fine drama but its conveniently bent to fit the kinds of stories we’re used to seeing in the movies. The real drama can still be found in the original broadcasts, which have been collected on this two-disc set: the four interview programs which were created from over 28 hours of interviews conducted in eleven sessions over four weeks in March 1977 and broadcast in May 1977, and a fifth program. created for the PBS rebroadcasts from covering topics that were not included in the original broadcasts. Where the film and play create a drama from the journalistic sparring by showing Frost outgunned and overwhelmed by Nixon, unprepared for his political skill and sharp intelligence, the original programs show a more complex dynamic, with a highly prepared Frost challenging a veteran statesman on his own turf and refusing to back down.
The shows are presented in broadcast order, which begin with the resonant “Watergate” episode, in many ways the dramatic climax of the interviews. Nixon talks around his culpability for much of the interview. “I didn’t think of it as a cover-up. I don’t intend it to be. Let me say, if I had intended to cover it up, believe me, I’d have done it.” But by the end of the program (which is, I might add, so well edited it feels like a single, intense session) he comes to his confession, or at least as close as he ever came: “I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government…. I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.” Nixon can’t even make eye contact with Frost as he opens up. But there’s no more admission to mistakes or wrongdoing through the rest of the shows. When it comes to his international policy, such as his efforts to topple left-wing governments (like Chile), which he proclaims are more dangerous to America than right-wing dictatorships. Given the rather clear-headed perspective offered by Frost, Nixon’s insistence that the leftist democracies are actually a subtle form of dictatorship is a little hard to swallow.
It was a cultural landmark and remains a relevant and vital piece of history. The other programs include Nixon And The World,” “War At Home And Abroad,” “The Final Days” and “The Last Roundup” (the latter created for the PBS rebroadcasts a few years later). The programs include the introductions that Frost recorded for the rebroadcasts.