Monday, December 01, 2008


Tonight's D.C. showing of “Frost/Nixon” was an early holiday gift to Beltway liberals, delivering glad tidings of anti-Nixonian feelgood to the permanent Washington establishment, which has felt shut out of power for so long, during the dark night of Gingrich-DeLay-Bush these past 15 years, before the Obama dawn. But even during this happy masque of lefty triumphalism, Fox News’ Chris Wallace threw a fair-and-balanced apple of discord into the middle of the festivities. Wallace had the nerve to defend George W. Bush from the ongoing liberal effort to Nixonize the 43rd President.

After the screening of the film, at the National Geographic Society headquarters in downtown D.C., director Ron Howard, playwright/screenwriter Peter Morgan, and Nixon-hater James Reston Jr. (son of the legendary New York Times columnist) appeared onstage for a question-and-answer session with the audience, moderated by Robert Dallek, the retired Boston University professor and well-known historian. 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 Richard 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 up in his 90s, 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” anchorman 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 3000 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 man, 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.

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