James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Nixon ‘Frosted’: more bad history from Hollywood

Posted by James McPherson on December 15, 2008

Not having seen the play “Frost/Nixon,” I was much looking forward to Ron Howard’s critically acclaimed new film version. Now, based on reviews such as those from Tom Charity and Elizabeth Drew, not so much.

Richard Nixon and David Frost were both fascinating characters (and both a bit slippery as well as more than a bit self-aggrandizing), and apparently the film is riveting. But like so much else in Hollywood, it’s also a lie. Aren’t we stupid enough about our history without fictionalizing it?

Ignorance of history leads to a world in which actors,  liars,  crooks, blowhards, political losers and overrated buffoons become leaders, television hosts and respected commentators. Yet our only hope as a nation may come from leaders who understand the real lessons of history.

For some real Frost/Nixon, see the clips below.

Nixon: “If I had intended to cover up, believe me I’d have done it.”

Nixon:”When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

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5 Responses to “Nixon ‘Frosted’: more bad history from Hollywood”

  1. Are you saying the movie is false because you think it makes us sympathize on some level with Nixon?

    I find it odd that you are basing this on reviews and not on actually having seen the film.

    After having seen the film, I think it would’ve been interesting to have seen clips of the actual interviews before the credits rolled, but I guess that would’ve ruined the illusion of Langella as Nixon.

    All in all, I thought it was a good dramatization of actual events, and if you view it as a dramatization, you can forgive the drama it creates that perhaps was not really there or has been glamorized for stage and screen.

    Here’s my review:

    http://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/a-review-of-ron-howards-frostnixon/

  2. James McPherson said

    “Are you saying the movie is false because you think it makes us sympathize on some level with Nixon?” Not at all, David. In fact, I like that apparent aspect of it, since I believe that no one is all good or all bad.

    And the film does sound like a good one, in most respects. It’s just that as a historian I lament how little my students know about history, and I fear that a popular film that twists facts for effect merely aggravates that ignorance. I’d have a more positive reaction if the film were clearly promoted as fictionalized, rather than seemingly purporting to be factual.

    I do agree that I’d get a clearer picture if I had seen the film myself. Unfortunately I rarely see a film before it makes it to DVD, so I read a lot of reviews (and now will check out the ones on your site from time to time) to make the best choices I can about what to see on those rare occasions. Thanks for the comment.

  3. James, thanks for clearing that up.

    I’m wondering now, as a historian, is there any particular film recently that you did find to be historically accurate?

    Did you see the recent HBO miniseries about John Adams? I would love to hear your thoughts on that if you have.

    -DHS

  4. James McPherson said

    That’s a great question, David, about historically accurate films–such a good question, in fact, that it prompted more research for today’s blog post, which I’ll post in a bit. Thanks for the help with an idea. 🙂

  5. […] Media literacy, Personal, Politics by James McPherson on December 20th, 2008 In responsed to my post of a few days ago in which I complained about the historical inaccuracy of […]

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