The Frost/Nixon nationwide festival is about to begin as the film opens this Friday. There was a preview last night at the National Geographic Society here in Washington.
After the screening there was a Q+A with director Ron Howard, writer Peter Morgan, and Nixon obsessive James Reston Jr., moderated by Professor Robert Dallek.
Jim Pinkerton describes the proceedings on today’s Fox Forum.
Howard was, well, Hollywood-ish, talking about the making of the film and the screen-testing of various alternate endings. And Morgan was arty and somewhat abstract, seemingly more hostile to Frost—who conducted the 1977 “checkbook journalism” interviews with the disgraced 37th president that are the heart of the film—than to Nixon. But Reston, portrayed in the film as a young Nixon-hating researcher for Frost, was relentlessly vehement, using every occasion he could to steer the discussion back to Nixon’s “criminality” and the need to confront it. Again. And again. And again.
Then Reston went further, declaring that the film was “a metaphor for George W. Bush,” a theme that Howard and Dallek, at least, seemed comfortable with. That was fine for the liberal multitudes in the audience, including former CBS News reporter Daniel Schorr, now in his ninth decade, who proudly recollected for the audience that he was “number fourteen on Nixon’s enemies list,” and former Watergate Committee counsel Richard Ben-Veniste, who resurfaced in 2004 as one of the 9/11 Commissioners.
But then “FOX News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, braving the liberal wind, asked a question, which was actually more of an accusation. “To compare George W. Bush to Richard Nixon is to trivialize Nixon’s crimes and is a disservice to Bush,” Wallace said. Recalling that 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, and noting that there hadn’t been any attacks on U.S. soil since, Wallace suggested that something had been done right. That’s why, he said, “we are all sitting here tonight so comfortably”—and not afraid of another terrorist attack. Moreover, Wallace said, “Richard Nixon’s crimes were committed solely for his own political gain, whereas George W. Bush was trying to protect the American people.” To suggest otherwise, Wallace insisted, “was a grave misrepresentation of history, then and now.” And, amazingly, Wallace received a smattering of applause.
Seemingly not wanting to get into a fight with the TV newsman, Dallek answered that we knew full well of Nixon’s criminality because of the Watergate tapes, but that no similar documentary record existed yet for Bush. Only when such information comes out, Dallek suggested, would the full horror of Bush’s presidency become visible. Which, of course, proved Wallace’s point: It was not fair to equate proven facts about Nixon with mere allegations about Bush.
“You make suppositions on no facts whatsoever,” Wallace concluded.
“Do you read The New York Times?” Dallek countered. That might not have been the strongest comeback ever, but it worked just fine with this audience. And with that, the Q & A session resumed its liberal course for the rest of the evening.