Irving Paul “Swifty” Lazar had brokered the deal. Nixon wanted acomeback, and Frost wanted to be seen as a legitimate journalist withthe “get” of the decade, not a puffball talk-show host.Late at night before one of the last tapings, Nixon calls Frost and they have a chat. Here’s some of the dialogue:
“Watergate.” It’s a small consolation to me that for thenext couple of days, that word will be as much of a millstonearound your neck as it has been around mine. Because, I guess,the way you handle Watergate will determine whether these inter-views are a success or failure.I called former Nixon speechwriter Aram Bakshian Jr., now the editor-in-chief of the periodical journal
. He says theconversation probably never happened in the way described, butit’sagreat literary device.The observation that Nixon’s character makes was true during Watergate, with the careers of
reporters Woodwardand Bernstein soaring in inverse proportion to Nixon’s downfall. Butit’s been true all through history. Publisher William Randolph Hearstfamously told war correspondents, “You supply the pictures, I’ll supply the war”—the Spanish-American War. A generation of reporters, led by Walter Cronkite, earned their stripes in World War II. The careers of thelate David Halberstam and Seymour Hersh were linked to the Viet Nam War. Hersh is still going strong in
The New Yorker
. President George W.Bush’s career is inextricably bound up with both the war in Iraq andthe reporters who covered that war.
... No matter how many awards—or how many columninches—are written about you, or how high the elected office is forme—it still isn’t enough, am I right? We still feel like the little man?Scrambling our way up, in undignified fashion, whatever hillock ormountain it is...People forget the modest circumstances that most reporters comefrom. Before the explosion of journalism schools right after Watergatemade the occupation fashionable and respectable, most journalistscame from working-class backgrounds and earned only modestsalaries. Like politicians, reporters can suffer severe ups and downs. Viewers are even more fickle than the electorate, and incumbency means little in journalism.
If we’re honest for a minute, isn’t that why we’re here now,the two of us? Looking for a way back? Into the sun? Into the lime-light? Back onto the winner’s podium? Because we could feel itslipping away? ... Humiliated all the more for having tried so piti-fully hard. Well, to hell with that. We’re not going to let that