'Frost/Nixon' tries to rewrite history





... Comes now "Frost/Nixon" the movie. It is well crafted and wonderfully acted. The Great Mentioners of Glitterati are mentioning it for multiple Academy Awards. Still, what you see on the silver screen is to accuracy what a fun house mirror is to true reflection. It distorts history. Magnifying some things, minimizing others. Also, inventing and omitting with dramatic license.

Mainly, in the film's climactic moment, the cinematic Frost (Michael Sheen) is seen rising to the occasion and nailing Nixon (Frank Langella) by getting him to admit his own criminal obstruction role in a " 'cover-up,' as you call it."

But that's not how it played out in the original Frost/Nixon broadcast, as I saw by reviewing my original articles written for Newsday when I covered that 1977 broadcast. Indeed, Frost had asked Nixon to admit he had obstructed justice by helping cover up his top advisers' knowledge of the original burglary of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate building during the 1972 presidential campaign.

But here's what the real Nixon said: "No, I...ah, I did not, ah, in the first place, ah, commit a...crime of obstruction of justice. Because I did not have the motive required for the commission of that crime...You're wanting me to say that I, um...participated in an illegal cover-up? No."

Oops, Nixon's "No" and those ellipses got conveniently lost. Nixon had actually insisted that while he'd helped cover-up crimes, his motives were political, not criminal. So he insisted he'd committed no crime.

Frost's real skill was media hype. He gave Time Magazine exclusive access to his interviews in exchange for a wet-kiss cover story the Sunday before the broadcast. Then he gave Newsweek much the same. All that publicity led Paramount Pictures' top marketing exec to rush to buy the broadcast's last unsold advertising time to publicize their upcoming "Black Sunday." And "Black Sunday" made that a Green Sunday for Nixon and Frost....


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