Chris Wallace Takes On <em>Frost/Nixon</em>

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Dec 02, 2008 8:44 AM
Last night, I attended a screening of Frost/Nixon -- a new movie about how the Frost/Nixon interviews changed the relationship between politics and journalism.  The event, which began with a cocktail reception, was attended by Christopher Hitchens, Chris Wallace, Kevin Madden, Margaret Carlson, and Jim Pinkerton -- just to name a few.

I believe my colleague John Hanlon is going to write a review, so I will just say Frost/Nixon was very good, and in fact, better than I had hoped.  It is well-written and well-acted.  What is more, like "Charlie Wilson's War," the movie manages to be extremely funny at times, while still being a serious film about a serious topic.  Here's the trailer:



Perhaps even more interesting than the film, though, was the panel discussion following the screening, which consisted of Historian Robert Dallek, journalist James Reston, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan.

One interesting thing that came out of the discussion was an acknowledgement that one of the main scenes never happened.  Essentially, there is a scene in which a drunken Nixon phones Frost after hours.  Of course, artistic license does exist -- and this scene does serve to underscore truths about the characters.  Still, it is concerning to think that most of the people who see this film will believe that Nixon did, in fact, make this phone call.

Throughout the panel discussion, the panelists expressed concern that Nixon might be perceived as being too sympathetic.  They have reason to worry; in fact, both Nixon and Frost -- at times -- come across as sympathetic "human" figures.

Though screenwriter Peter Morgan denies the Bush Presidency inspired this movie about Nixon's corruption, Dallek, Howard and Reston went out of their way to bash Bush -- and to say that this movie was  “a metaphor for George W. Bush,” because of his "Imperial" presidency. 

This is where things got interesting...

Seated in the audience, FOX's Chris Wallace raised his hand.  He opened with: "I'd like to respectfully disagree with you..." and went on to ask this comment:  “To compare George W. Bush to Richard Nixon is to trivialize Nixon’s crimes and is a disservice to Bush."

Wallace's argument was that any mistakes Bush made were made because -- post 9-11 -- he was attempting to keep us safe, while Nixon's sins were committed for personal power. 

Interestingly, Wallace's comments drew a round of applause from this DC crowd.  Moderator Robert Dallek -- a confessed Bush-hater -- attempted to counter Wallace, but his remarks were not well received from the audience.  Wallace followed-up by reiterating his point that it is incredibly irresponsible to compare Bush to Nixon, and that the two are not similar.  Clearly, Wallace's comments -- and that fact that many in the audience appeared to be with him -- changed the trajectory of the conversation, as the panelists became much less overtly liberal for the remainder of the discussion.

It is unclear whether or not the folks on stage new they were being queried by a TV personality, or not.  It is unusual for a celebrity to ask such questions in an informal setting -- the only other time I've witnessed such a thing was at another event I attended where former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson was grilling South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (Sanford, I don't believe, knew who Gerson was).

*** Read Jim Pinkerton's account of "CHRIS WALLACE IN THE LIBERAL LION'S DEN!"

*** The WaTimes also covered this.