|Sir David Frost with "Tricky Dicky"|
Sir David was larger than life, an extraordinary man bestowed with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth. His many brilliant interviews made a huge impact on television and politics, but none were as riveting as the Nixon interviews.
The Ron Howard movie of the Frost/Nixon interview in 1977 showcased one of 20th century television's most dramatic confessions, thanks to artistic inventions by scriptwriter Peter Morgan. Under Frost's coaxing, Nixon was persuaded to overcome his reticence and put his mea culpa on the record once and for all.
"Yes," said Nixon, "I let the American people down. And I'll have to carry the burden the rest of my life."
Nixon's biographer Jonathan Aitken revealed that the truth was slightly less melodramatic. Ever the master stonewaller, Nixon fulfilled his contractual obligation to sit through all 24 hours of televised interrogation, but he managed to weave a web of maximum tedium and minimum disclosure. Worst of all, he yielded no ground on Watergate; nor did he come anywhere near offering an apology for it. His staff had to gutsy up and tell the boss, "Listen, if this ends the way it has, the world is going to say, there goes the same old Nixon."
Eventually, Nixon was grudgingly convinced, agreed to offer one more additional interviewing session, and conceded that he had participated in the cover up and lied to the world about it.
Back in 1977, Nixon was at rock bottom as a disgraced political pariah in exile, and faced the added indignity of being desperately short of money. Unable to meet his doctors' and lawyers' bills, Nixon was on the verge of no longer being able to pay his staff. Frost's willingness to pay Nixon $600,000 for the interview - around $8 million in today's money - plus 20% of the profits, was a financial lifeline.
Wonder how much Frost will have to pony up to get Lee Kuan Yew to talk. As in really talk, concede how he let the Singapore people down, and have to carry the burden for the rest of his surviving days. The difference here, of course, is that Lee doesn't have to worry about money.