Frost

When I was in j-school we dedicated a segment to studying the Frost/Nixon interviews. We watched both the real and the Hollywood versions and dissected the key elements to conduct and steer a successful interview. Over the course of this study, I wrote three assignments. The middle assignment was about the celebrity interviewer himself.

David Frost died this past weekend and I was a bit surprised to see little coverage or tribute to the guy who got the disgraced former president Richard Nixon to admit to his wrongdoings in the Watergate scandal during his presidency. So as my little ode to the guy who exemplifies interviewing at its best, this is my small acknowledgement to the late Frost.

David Frost was not a TV personality taken seriously. He was witty, satirical, sarcastic and charismatic: all the necessary ingredients for a star. And he was just that; David Frost was a star in his own right, a Ryan Seacrest of his day whose past interviews constituted mostly entertainers from musicians to comedians. Any predictions of him landing a career interviewing some of the most important and controversial people in the world were too far off to imagine.

Frost was an entertainer playing the role of an interviewer. He lured his audience in with sharp dialect and mastered a character that personified superstardom. He also found a casual style of getting to know his guests in which he didn’t seem to ask questions from a cue-card, instead, he talked about what was on his mind. In spite of his casual demeanor, it makes every bit of sense that no television station was willing to support his idea to interview Richard Nixon after the former president of the United States resigned following Watergate. 

In order for Frost to gain the trust of those around him, and convince them that he was worthy of conducting this interview, he had to be taken seriously. Imagine proposing an interview with George W. Bush in which the former president would be grilled with question after question about all the things that went wrong during his administration. Surely most stations would take that idea and hire a distinguished journalist to ask the questions. Frost needed to prove that he was not out of his league.

As a result of coming to an agreement with Nixon and his people to perform the six-part interview, Frost hired three investigators, all of whom were highly reputable in their field. It was a long and daunting task that had them researching Nixon and his administration inside and out, and performing mock interviews on each other in preparation. Through their research, the team was able to figure out how the interview should unfold and if things went off course, they would treat it like a boxing ring and pull Frost aside for a little pep talk. 

As mentioned in an article from the UK’s Daily Mail by Jonathan Aitken, there was little acknowledgement of Frost’s warm personality in Frost/Nixon. The character in the film was hyper and craving a big break, but the real David Frost had a passion for television work and made personal connections with the people he interviewed. These connections are how he managed to entice Nixon to express his entire self. By establishing a base relationship with his interviewee, Frost could almost guarantee an organic impression, one that would not require him to read off his notes but, in fact, put the notepad down and look into the eyes of the person in front of him to dig out the truth. 

As said by Aitken, Frost seemed to be more of a therapist than a journalist, encouraging his client to release the burden on his mind. Frost’s casual personae was indeed an obstacle in his finalizing a deal to air the anticipated program, but keeping true to his own integrity, Frost did not change himself in order to land the biggest opportunity of his career. It was a matter of convincing the world that he was capable of expanding his horizons beyond the reaches of celebrity superstardom. 

His determination, along with humility and charisma allowed him to overcome a reputation and image of entertainer and become David Frost, the journalist.

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