By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers
No wonder British screenwriter Peter Morgan said he was nervous to have his new flick Frost/Nixon debut in front of a D.C. crowd. He realized that with a house packed full of Washington journos, the audience surely knew more about former President Nixon than he did. And the discussion could get heated. That's why he mainly stuck to dissing the British half of the Frost/Nixon duo: "I still think I wasn't tough enough on Frost," he says. Morgan wrote a play, and then the film, shown at a Washington screening last night, which dramatizes the 1977 interviews between British talk show host David Frost and former American prez Richard Nixon. When reading Frost's "extraordinary self-aggrandizing lopsided version of events," Morgan almost shied away from writing Frost/Nixon. And he found it particularly in bad taste that Frost had paid Nixon for the sit-down. "I can't apologize for David Frost—I think it's contemptible," Morgan said at a panel discussion after the movie.
He left most of the Nixon-bashing to the other panelists—director Ron Howard and James Reston, the author and former Frost researcher who inspired the narrator character in the film. And they had no qualms about making a George W. Bush/Nixon comparison. That assertion did not go over well with attendee Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, who initiated a prickly exchange with the panel's moderator, historian Robert Dallek. Wallace received applause from the audience for his defense of Bush, and Fox News sent the following to Whispers today touting the heated conversation as "Wallace takes on Hollywood!"
At the Frost/Nixon screening last night, Ron Howard and show writers compared GWB's abuses of power to Nixon's. Wallace disagreed..."It trivializes Nixon's crimes and completely misrepresents what George W. Bush did...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." He also had a healthy debate with renowned historian Robert Dallek.
Despite the drama, Morgan told Whispers he thought the screening was a success and that he may have wooed over one of his most difficult audiences. And that included Wallace, who said the movie was terrific and it gave a new understanding to Richard Nixon.