2 October 2011

The snake (interview) that did for Nixon's reputation and the ladder (speech) that had saved it



The Frost-Nixon interview as the ultimate snake
Was it, I wonder, pure coincidence that BBC2's schedule last night included some archive footage of the original Frost-Nixon interview (including the above), followed by the film version of the events surrounding and leading up to it?

After all, the party conference season, with its mix of extended interviews with politicians, very short clips from their speeches and much longer clips from media commentators telling us what they're talking about, has yet to grind to a close.

From my point of view, having started the season by asking why our politicians are so willing to play snakes and ladders under media rules that give them little chance of landing on anything but a snake (HERE), the chance to see the Frost-Nixon film could hardly have come at a more appropriate time.

Here was a disgraced American president who thought himself smart enough to run rings around a talk-show host and salvage his reputation - only to be lured into landing on about as damaging a snake as David Frost and his media colleagues could ever have dreamt of.

The Checkers speech as the ladder that saved his career
A quarter of a century earlier, claims that vice-presidential candidate Nixon might have misappropriated campaign funds almost forced his withdrawal as President Eisenhower's running mate.

What saved him was not an interview, but the carefully crafted 'Checkers speech' (still ranked as the 6th greatest political speech on the American Rhetoric website).

Interestingly, both the name it became known by and much of its powerful impact derived from a simple anecdote about his children and a little cocker spaniel dog.

I think our current politicians could do worse than to watch both - and reflect on what a single interview and a single speech did for Nixon's political reputation.

Were they to do so, they might think again about what, if anything, they are gaining from their tacit collusion with broadcasters about the relative merits of interviews and speeches as alternative ways of communicating their messages (and conveying positive/negative images of themselves) to a wider public.

(You may have to put up with a 15 seconds commercial before this starts).




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