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FROST/NIXON

Understanding The Medium
As personified by Frost, a recurring theme of Morgan's developing play was the growing influence and foggy responsibility of the fourth estate in shaping public opinion, as relevant an issue today as it was in the post-Watergate era when the Frost/Nixon interviews were taped, and even earlier in American history.

Since Franklin D. Roosevelt's first fireside chat in March 1933, topics from bank crises and national security to the latest war and/or conflicts have been readily available for dissemination to an eager American public, and have been inspiring works of historical fiction. While politicians have long sought to control the medium by delivering perfect message points, with the market penetration of television they had a new method with which to sway opinion. That concept offered Morgan much drama from which to draw.

Taking a cue from the camps that surrounded Frost and Nixon before the infamous interviews, Morgan delved into further research about how the burgeoning medium created the public personalities of Frost and Nixon. What he found was enlightening, particularly on just how television dictated and was manipulated by both men.

While television had been Nixon's adversary many times throughout his career, it had also been an invaluable ally in his rise to power. In September 1952, he had used it masterfully during the so-called "Checkers speech,” a sentimental plea during the time he was embroiled in an ethics scandal that had threatened his candidacy as the Republican nominee for the vice presidency. Arguably, he came across as austere and plainspoken, as a solid product of his Quaker upbringing. And upon Eisenhower's request, in March 1954 the then-vice president brilliantly manipulated the media to make a name for himself during his powerful speech in the Army-McCarthy hearings, skewering a man some previously had felt was above reproach.

It would not stay Nixon's ally forever. The 1960 televised presidential debates between Kennedy and him marked the beginning of a new era in which politicians could present their messages and pundits could feverishly analyze them. Nixon, sweating profusely and with running makeup, was soundly thumped, as the dashing JFK remained calm and collected. Candidates would now be judged not only on their relevant experience for the job at hand, but also their comparative telegenic appeal.

That hard lesson would not prove fruitless and provided rich history for Morgan. Nixon rebounded to win the nation's highest office. Throughout his presidency—from his July 1969 meetings with President Nguyen Van Thieu in South Vietnam to his February 1972 historic outreach to Asia with Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong—he worked hard to become telegenic and approachable. And then came Watergate.

The impact with which television hammered Nixon's Watergate sins into the public's consciousness overshadowed the successes of his two terms in office. As the specifics of the crimes that led to his resignation on August 9, 1974, faded in the collective memory, the former president—through his agent, Hollywood legend Irving "Swifty” Lazar—began looking for a way to bring his accomplishments back into the American consciousness. Nixon would give that most powerful medium one more chance to serve or betray him.

And he would find that opportunity in a series of interviews with a journalist named David Frost.

Frost began his career on television as a young comedian whose buoyant enthusiasm was a wicked counterpoint to the dire events reported on the faux news program That Was the Week That Was. This groundbreaking satire fell victim to the same government officials it lampooned when, during an election year, the BBC canceled the show because it might be an "undue influence.” Frost next became part of an American version of the progra

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