I’ve always found Richard Nixon an incredibly interesting figure — I think most Americans do. After all, he’s the only President to ever resign to avoid being impeached. Given that, Nixon is often thought of as a cartoon of evil; the President Nixon of Futurama isn’t too far removed from the idea most people have of Nixon… minus the giant battle mech for a body, of course.
Nixon himself knew that, particularly after his resignation, he was persona non grata. In 1977, he was working on his memoirs (which would go on to be a bestseller — after all, everyone wanted to see how he’d explain himself), and interviewer David Frost — then known mostly in England as a chat-show host (as well as the host of a sketch comedy show, The Frost Report, that gave some Pythons their start), someone more at home interviewing movie stars than disgraced politicians — had the idea to do a long, in-depth interview with Nixon, going over his entire presidency. It took some doing, but eventually, the interview took place — Nixon got $600,000, and Frost got complete control, and about 28 hours of interviewing time to be edited to four 90 minute programs.
To give people an idea, it’d probably be something like Conan O’Brien sitting down for a hard-hitting interview with George W. Bush when he leaves office — not a slight on his capability, but not really someone you would immediately go to for that sort of thing. Another example might be when Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show; when he took the job, I don’t think people would have expected him to, for example, do an interview like this with Mike Huckabee. As newsworthy as the actual interviews themselves were, so were the surrounding circumstances — so much so that there was a hit play and an upcoming film about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the interviews.
So far, I haven’t seen the film — as of this writing, I don’t think it’s even out in Seattle yet, but I am looking forward to it. I know some liberties were taken for dramatic effect, although Frost himself seems satisfied with the final product. But all the press for the film had put me in a Nixon mood, so I pulled this one off the shelf.
Admittedly, it’s not the normal book you’d expect for a film (or stage) adaptation, but there is a wealth of information to be found — and a surprisingly interesting story. Frost’s book is never dry, and the most interesting aspect is that Frost examines Nixon’s Presidency as a whole, giving credit where credit is due. A lot of what falls by the wayside is Nixon’s talent and interest in foreign policy, and his opening of China for diplomacy. One of the standard quotes about Nixon is that “he may do well as long as he can out-run his character”, and that definitely seems to hold true with what Frost discovered about Nixon’s role in Watergate.
The one minor problem is that Frost has a tendency to repeat himself and use some of the same quotes; it almost seems like each chapter was written as a stand-alone piece. The book would have been better had he rolled some of his points in to the same section relying on the same quotes; in most cases, the different aspects of the quotes in different sections compliment each other, and would read very well combined. The second part of the book includes edited transcripts as well — which normally would be interesting, but are often the same quotes in the main text, with perhaps just a little bit of surrounding context — though Frost typically used the same context (or sometimes extended quotes) in the main text, which, again, plays into the sense of repetition. With another pass at the editing job, the book would be perfect; as it is, it’s probably a 85-90% job, but it could be a 100%. Either way, it’s a great book for anyone with even the remotest interest in Nixon, American Politics, or even the mechanics of getting a show self-syndicated.