Excerpt: Elizabeth Drew’s ‘Washington Journal’

face distorted in agony, this was the climactic moment of the drama. Such a confession to criminal behavior would have been dramatic indeed, had Nixon actually said it. But the line in the script for the play and the movie omitted the first several words in the sentence that Nixon had actually said— which can be heard on recordings of the interviews—and an ellipsis was substituted, so that the script read, “. . . I was involved in a cover-up as you call it.” The audience of course could know nothing of the ellipsis, and so it was deceived into believing that Nixon had made a damning disclosure when no such thing has occurred. It made for high drama, but it wasn’t true. The actual line uttered by Nixon, when Frost pressed him to confess that he had more than made “mistakes,” that crime may have been involved, was, “You’re wanting me to say that I participated in an illegal cover-up. No.” On the doctored line rested the plot’s conceit that the canny Frost had bested the shrewd, evasive Nixon. The play had been set up as a David/Goliath confrontation: thus the sequence of the names in the title Frost/Nixon.

Despite Nixon’s efforts to make the subject of Watergate go away, it kept lapping up on the shores of San Clemente. By the end of 1974 and into the following year, a substantial number of his aides were sentenced to prison terms. Among the former top aides to go to jail were his former Attorney General and chairman of his reelection committee John Mitchell; his top assistants Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman; and also Charles Colson and John Dean—virtually the entire higher level of the Nixon White House. Some smaller White House fry, as well as the plumbers and their leaders, were also sentenced to prison.

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