Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cheney Ends Up As The New Nixon, Anyway

The VP was evidently so grateful to Chris Wallace of Fox News for defending the Bush Administration against comparisons to Richard Nixon that he agreed to give Wallace an “exit interview” — ironic, since Mr. Cheney’s interview with Wallace has itself drawn a comparison by Matt Corley to RN’s famous assertion to David Frost about the President’s latitude during a national security crisis.

As TNN’s Robert Nedelkoff has noted, when Frank Langella, portraying RN, says that when the President does something, “it’s not illegal,” the script makes it appear as though he’s talking about the Watergate break-in and cover-up. In real life, Frost and the former President had been talking about the Huston Plan for wartime intelligence-gathering about domestic radicals. The plan was approved and later rescinded by the President.

It’s hard to defend illegal activity by the government under any circumstances. But it would be interesting to know how much latitude the American people would give it in the event of an imminent threat. At his appearance at the Nixon Library on Friday, Bill O’Reilly said that arguments against extreme measures would lose much if not all of their salience if the U.S. is hit again as on Sept. 11.

That doesn’t justify such actions, either. But journalists should not assume that Americans are of one mind on the subject. That’s why, at the start of the new administration, debate and dialogue would be better than the legal scapegoating of Bush Administration officials which is so intensely craved by the President’s and VP’s political opponents.

As for “Frost/Nixon” director Ron Howard and playwright-scriptwriter Peter Morgan, it would be interesting to know why they chose to misconstrue RN’s quote. Without knowing their motives, its likely that most theatergoers are more appalled by the “not illegal” formulation when it’s applied to political shenanigans as opposed to wartime national security policies.

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