Director Ron Howard appeared for a C-SPAN Washington Journal interview Monday morning on Capitol Hill with British screenwriter Peter Morgan to discuss their new film Frost/Nixon, based on Morgan’s play on the 1977 interviews between British TV star David Frost and the Republican president who resigned. The jarring moment came near the end, when C-SPAN host Steve Scully asked "For a generation who doesn’t remember Nixon or these interviews, what do you want them to come away with?"
Howard replied that Nixon’s crimes were "quaint" compared to the current administration: "Well, it’s a great drama. It doesn’t have a political axe to grind, and yet you know, it speaks to democracy, the media, the way it all works in the modern era. The only thing that’s kind of quaint about the story at all is the fact that, you know, uh, that the Nixon crimes pale by comparison, with uh, with uh, um, um, [picks up pen] you know, what we’ve been reading about and hearing about in the last few years. Uh, and yet, it also reminds us that abuse of power at any level cannot be accepted, and, so if there’s a political point to be made, you know, I’d say it’s nonpartisan, but that’s the point."
Did Howard really mean to endorse the John Dean thesis that Bush and Cheney’s crimes are worse than Watergate? Scully clearly read it that way, asking: "Is there a film in the back of your mind about the Bush-Cheney years?"
Howard laughed, and said "Not yet, but I’d like to start with some interviews." He didn’t deny that mental connection.
It may have sprung from a South Carolina caller earlier on in the session: "I always thought was a two-bit burglary, and you remember Kennedy and Johnson started Vietnam. But the movie you should make is the Bush and his puppy dog Blair for the millions who’ve been killed and displaced in Iraq." To which Morgan replied with a smile: "I’m busy working on it."
Howard deflected a caller who complained that Howard made an Internet ad with Andy Griffith touting Barack Obama for president when Obama was so inexperienced. (It aired on the video site Funny Or Die, and Howard decried the country going on a "divisive and wrong-headed path" under Bush, but said he felt Obama could be an "extraordinary president.")
The caller said he hoped the film was unbiased, which clearly isn't the case from the trailer, which laments Nixon as "the man who committed the greatest felony in American history would never stand trial."
By the way, in the middle of the interview, Scully displayed a clip from a two-hour C-SPAN Booknotes interview with Nixon (dated February 4, 1992) on the role of the media:
BRIAN LAMB: Did you ever ask yourself why so many in the media are against you?
RICHARD NIXON: Oh, they didn’t agree with what I stood for. This is long before Watergate. The [Alger] Hiss case in particular was very difficult for the media. They all thought he was innocent. And if they didn’t think he was innocent, they didn’t want him exposed, because as one individual said, he said it would be a reflection of the foreign policy of the Roosevelt administration, which of course was not my goal at all. And so with that, it was difficult. It’s not that I didn’t have many friends in the media. But media people, while they try to be objective, many of them do, they also have strong convictions, and, frankly, they generally are not particularly enamored with conservatives, as I am, even though I’m probably more reasonable than some of the conservatives they go after.
Morgan said it reminded him of how much the Clintons protested "a strong and vigorous media."