- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

One of the great misconceptions about Richard M. Nixon is that he never knew how to use the power of television. Nothing was further from the truth.

Candidate Nixon's perspiration-soaked performance during the 1960 presidential debate is often seen as evidence that he wasn't ready for prime time.

Those critics forget about Mr. Nixon's so-called Checkers speech in 1952, in which he saved his candidacy for vice president by slyly showcasing his often-hidden personal side, even introducing the Nixon family dog, Checkers, to viewers.

Perhaps even more important, the critics overlook Mr. Nixon's historic interviews with British journalist David Frost in 1977. The talks, seen in five televised installments, remain some of the most-watched interviews in history, and helped set the stage for Mr. Nixon's remarkable campaign to rehabilitate his post-Watergate reputation.

The interviews will be recalled on "In Their Own Words: Nixon," an hourlong special that airs Monday evening, the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Discovery Civilization Channel, a digital cable channel, will carry the program.

Viewers who remember the Nixon-Frost talks will recall that Mr. Nixon was more candid than the nation expected, even discussing the emotional toll Watergate took on him.

In one memorable exchange with Mr. Frost, Mr. Nixon recalls the day he called aides H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman to Camp David to request their resignations.

Mr. Nixon paints a vivid picture for Mr. Frost, and says dismissing the loyal aides was one of the hardest things he had to do as president. He says he even told the men, "I hoped I almost prayed I wouldn't wake up this morning."

The most dramatic moment comes when Mr. Frost presses Mr. Nixon to apologize to the nation for Watergate. Mr. Nixon never quite rises to that challenge, but he makes a memorable concession: "I let the American people down. I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life."

Mr. Frost recorded more than 28 hours of interviews with Mr. Nixon. Much of the footage included in "In Their Own Words" was not seen during the original five Nixon-Frost broadcasts.

Mr. Frost paid Mr. Nixon a then-record $600,000 for the interviews, which were conducted during a 12-day period in March and April 1977. (It is believed the syndicated newsmagazine "Inside Edition" broke the record in 1994, when it paid an estimated $700,000 to talk to scandalous Olympic skater Tonya Harding.)

The interviews weren't considered all that successful when they aired 25 years ago. Mr. Nixon was criticized for acknowledging "mistakes" of judgment on Watergate, but denied having committed any impeachable offense. Some critics also thought Mr. Frost was too soft on the former president.

It is only in retrospect that we can see the interviews for what they were: a reminder that Mr. Nixon, while not exactly a made-for-TV candidate, understood the power of the medium.


WHAT: "In Their Own Words: Nixon"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Discovery Civilization Channel


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