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Fox’s Wallace defends Bush at screening

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fox News journalist Chris Wallace on Monday evening defended President Bush against criticism by Hollywood filmmaker Ron Howard that the president has abused his office in a way similar to President Nixon.

"Richard Nixon's crimes were committed purely in the interest of his own political gain," Mr. Wallace told Mr. Howard before an audience of a few hundred after viewing the filmmaker's new film, "Frost/Nixon," which is about the only U.S. president to resign from office.

"I think to compare what Nixon did, and the abuses of power for pure political self-preservation, to George W. Bush trying to protect this country -- even if you disagree with rendition or waterboarding -- it seems to me is both a gross misreading of history both then and now," Mr. Wallace said.

Related article:Bradlee slams 'Frost/Nixon': 'Nixon never was sorry'

Mr. Wallace was a member of the audience at a special preview screening of "Frost/Nixon," which depicts the process that led to the disgraced president's confession of failure. The screening was held at the National Geographic Society Auditorium in Washington. The movie opens nationwide Friday.

After the screening, Mr. Howard took the stage, along with writer Peter Morgan; James Reston Jr., one of the researchers who helped interviewer David Frost; and historian Robert Dallek.

Mr. Howard was the first to comment about the film's connection to Mr. Bush, saying that he had told friends in 1977 that an abuse of power similar to Mr. Nixon's would "never happen again."

"So that led to some frustrations that I've experienced over the last few years," said Mr. Howard, an Oscar-winning director.

Mr. Dallek followed Mr. Howard's comments.

"It's just as Ron says. We've been, back in the past eight years, through this anguish about an imperial presidency," he said. "This has, I think, in a sense, made this film and the play so timely, and why it's really commanding so much attention."

A few moments later, Mr. Reston, who is one of the characters portrayed in the film, said the film had been "driven by the metaphor of George W. Bush."

"Who will be the Frost to Bush?" he asked. "Or will he just ride off into the sunset?"

It was 35 minutes into the discussion when Mr. Wallace spoke up and responded to another comment by Mr. Reston, who asserted that young people today sympathize with Mr. Nixon.

"The younger generation feels that Richard Nixon was railroaded out of office and that what he did is trivial compared to what George W. Bush does," he said.

"Yeah, I respectfully would like to disagree with that," Mr. Wallace said. "It trivializes Nixon's crimes and completely misrepresents what George W. Bush did. Whatever George W. Bush did was after the savage attack of 9/11, in which 3,000 Americans were killed, and was done in service of trying to protect this country. I'm not saying that you have to agree with everything he did, but it was all done in the service of trying to protect this country and keep us safe."

"And the fact is that we sit here so comfortably, and the country has not been attacked again since 9/11," Mr. Wallace said.

Nixon's administration was embattled over the so-called "Watergate" scandal, stemming from a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee during the 1972 campaign. The break-in was traced to officials of the Committee to Re-elect the President. A number of administration officials resigned; some were later convicted of offenses connected with efforts to cover up the affair, according to Mr. Nixon's biography on the White House Web site, whitehouse.gov.

Mr. Nixon denied any involvement, but the courts forced him to yield tape recordings that indicated he had tried to divert the investigation, the Web site states.

Faced with what seemed almost certain impeachment, Mr. Nixon announced on Aug. 8, 1974, that he would resign the next day to begin "that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America," according to the Web site.

Mr. Dallek was the only panelist to engage Mr. Wallace on Monday night. He spoke at length about the need for historians to look at the documents that will shed light on the inner workings of the Bush administration, and accused Mr. Bush of making that process more difficult in an executive order issued in November 2001.

"What is he hiding? What does he want to hold back? We as historians, you see, feel that it is absolutely essential before you make this judgment that you've made in so confident a way, that we need to have the records," Mr. Dallek told Mr. Wallace.

"I have my biases in this case," Mr. Dallek said. "They are distinctly negative about Mr. Bush because I think he's abused power. I wouldn't say necessarily the same about him as Richard Nixon. But sui generis. He may have abused power in his own special way."

Mr. Wallace was not impressed with the response.

"You're simply making suppositions based on no facts whatsoever," he told Mr. Dallek. "And the other panelists have also been very confident in their position. All I'm saying is, I see no personal political gain in what George W. Bush did after 2001. I see a great deal of personal political gain in everything that Richard Nixon did."

"We will see," Mr. Dallek replied.