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David Frost and Richard Nixon

John Simkin

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David Frost and Richard Nixon

I watched the Watergate section of the Richard Nixon interview he gave to David Frost in 1977. With his legal training, Nixon did a reasonable job but he found it impossible to convincing rebuke the claim that he was involved in the cover-up. As I watched him twist and turn I wondered why he agreed to give an interview that clearly showed he had been involved in illegal activity that should have meant that he ended up in prison.

To introduce the Frost-Nixon debate, Frost was interviewed by Joan Bakewell. She asked the obvious question: “Why did Nixon agree to do the interview?” Frost replied that Nixon needed the money. Frost was involved in competing with several other news broadcasters. Nixon was trying to get an agreement for an interview that did not involve a discussion of Watergate. Under these terms, the most he was offered was $400,000. Frost offered $600,000 (over $2 million in today’s money) and a 20 percent share of any profits, if he was willing to discuss Watergate. Nixon agreed because he considered Frost a lightweight interviewer who would not know enough about the case.

This was a miscalculation. Frost had been a brilliant student at Cambridge University, who had a deep interest in politics. He also recruited James Reston, Jr. and Bob Zelnick to evaluate the Watergate minutiae prior to the interview.

The interviews began on March 23, 1977 and lasted 12 days. Frost lured Nixon into a false sense of security by interviewing Nixon for 24 hours without mentioning Watergate. In these sessions he gave him an easy time and allowed Nixon to boast about his contribution to world peace. However, in the final six hour session, his questioning revealed details of a previously unknown conversation between Nixon and Charles Colson. This clearly unsettled Nixon and Frost was able to go in for the kill.

The episode on Watergate, broadcast on 4th May, 1977, was watched by 45 million people. A Gallup poll conducted after the interview showed that 69 percent of the public thought that Nixon was still trying to cover up, 72 percent still thought he was guilty of obstruction of justice, and 75 percent thought he deserved no further role in public life.

Frost was asked by Bakewell why he had been willing to take such a dangerous risk by talking on television about Watergate. Frost, once again returned to the subject of money. Frost had been told by Nixon’s chief of staff and confidant, Jack Brennan, that Nixon feared that some of the people who had gone to prison over Watergate, would sue him when they were released. Frost added that this surprisingly did not happen. Of course, it didn’t. Nixon needed the money to stop them from talking. It was not only the burglars who needed “hush money”.

By the way, during the interview he admitted that the break-in might have been botched on purpose. He added that he suspected that the CIA had been behind the operation.


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  • 5 months later...

Frost/Bush NOT Nixon: TV host chooses George Snr interview as his proudest moment over infamous Watergate grilling

By Eddie Wrenn

Daily Mail

6th of March 2012


The world will remember Sir David Frost for his seminal interviews with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon - but the veteran broadcaster has admitted his proudest moment was actually interviewing another President.

Despite Frost's showdown with Nixon inspiring a hit play, an Oscar-nominated film and receiving the vote as the greatest broadcast interview ever, the TV host rates his patio chat with George Bush Snr as his own favourite.

Although the meeting, which took place at a little wood cabin in the state of Maine in 1989, is little remembered, Frost was delighted because he scooped the world by getting the first full interview with Bush after his election victory.

Asked about his favourite interview by the Radio Times magazine, Frost said: 'A man I greatly respect, the first President Bush - well, everybody had said that he never relaxed on television and when we did the first interview with him up at Kennebunkport, a little village in Maine.

'Although we'd never met before, within 10 or 15 minutes he was talking just so frankly about his family and the daughter he lost through leukaemia.

'He was direct and everything that he is in real life, but he'd never been seen that way on television.'

Frost said his pride stemmed from getting 'something from a person who everybody told you would not give at all.'

Frost picked up a number of interviews with Presidents, and also interviewed Bush Jnr in 2003, with the two discussing Tony Blair - described by Bush as 'a man of strong faith', the Middle East, and 9/11.

The broadcaster's confrontation with Nixon was filmed in 1977 - three years after he resigned in the face of the Watergate scandal.


Nixon had been out of the spotlight since his resignation in 1974, but was convinced by his publicist to talk to Frost.

Nixon's advisers believed the former President would outwit Frost, partly due to a 'soft' 1968 interview between the pair.

However Frost heavily researched the interview and insisted on no-holds-barred questioning.

This led to insights into Nixon's behaviour during the Watergate scandal, and added more evidence to the public belief that Nixon covered up his involvement in the affair.

The Watergate scandal saw the downfall of the President, after a break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters was linked to the Republican's President staff.

The interviews were carried out over 12 days in March 1977 and took place in California. 45 million people watched the first episode - a world-record for a political interview.

Nixon fought three and won two U.S. presidential elections but was forced to resign after the Watergate scandal revealed an array of dirty tricks carried out against his opponents by his political allies.

The story of how Sir David persuaded Nixon to speak on camera in a series of interviews in which he admitted he 'let down the country' became the basis of the play Frost/Nixon.

It was then turned into the multiple award winning film by acclaimed director Ron Howard, with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the title roles.

Sir David said he did not mind that the Nixon interview had eclipsed his other work, saying that it was a such a great experience he 'wouldn't have wanted to be without that in my life'.

He told the magazine: 'One wouldn't worry about it eclipsing anything. It was such a great experience that I wouldn't have wanted to be without that in my life.'

Frost is known for asking soft questions with a sting in the tail - Labour leader John Smith once told Frost he had a way of 'asking beguiling questions with potentially lethal consequences'.

Speaking about his questions to Nixon, Frost said: 'I had insisted on sole control - that he wouldn't know any of the questions in advance and so there was absolutely no legal barrier to me asking him whatever I wanted.'

Frost will next be seen presenting a new series about the art of interviews, called Frost on Interviews, on BBC4, interviewing presenters including Michael Parkinson, Lord Bragg, Joan Bakewell and Graham

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2110931/Frost-Bush-NOT-Nixon-TV-host-chooses-George-Snr-interview-proudest-moment-infamous-Watergate-grilling.html#ixzz1oLyhUmRt

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