Monday, January 26, 2009

The Seeds Of Regret

Jonathan Aitken is a former member of the British Parliament and author of Nixon: A Life (sadly and I hope temporarily out of print, though you can grab a copy here). A frequent visitor to San Clemente after President Nixon's resignation, including during his honeymoon with his first wife, he had a fascinating insider's account of the Nixon-Frost interviews in Saturday's London Daily Mail.

Aitken begins with a glimpse of the honeymoon visit:

[A]n awkwardly but determinedly romantic Richard Nixon presented us with a formal corsage of flowers, made delicate inquiries on how we were sleeping, and took immense pains in putting on a festive dinner party which he called 'La Casa Pacifica's welcome to the honeymooners from three happily married couples'. They turned out to be ex-President Nixon and his wife; David and Julie Eisenhower (President Ike's grandson and Nixon's daughter); and Congressman and Mrs Jimmy Roosevelt (FDR's son and daughter-in-law).

Having recently interviewing RN's then-chief of staff (played in "Frost/Nixon" by Kevin Bacon), Aitken describes what really happened after the former President successfully filibustered David Frost in their first videotaped exchanges:
As Colonel Jack Brennan tells it: 'Frost sent his aide, John Birt [later boss of the BBC], to see me. He said: "This has been terrible. We need more time."

'My immediate reaction was "Tough. We've kept our side of the deal: the taping is over."

'But later I talked it over with my staff. We all agreed that Nixon should voluntarily go further and express some regret.

'So I went to see the boss and I said to him: "Listen, if this ends the way it has, the world is going to say, there goes the same old Nixon."'

At first, Nixon was curtly dismissive of this criticism. But Brennan and his team persisted. Their argument was that some expression of regret for Watergate needed to be put on record....

'From that moment onwards,' recalled Brennan, 'I knew that Nixon was spending all his time preparing himself for how to say something that would not be a confession or an expression of guilt, yet would say sorry for what had happened.' Throughout his life, Richard Nixon had difficulty giving apologies. This one was the hardest of all.

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