“Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
So begins ex-president Richard Nixon’s interview with British journalist David Frost on this day in 1977. In the 4-hour televised interview, Nixon admitted fault in disappointing the American people and covering up his mistakes.
Following the fiasco at Watergate, Nixon resigned his position as leader of the free world instead of facing a potentially embarrassing impeachment. His successor, Gerald Ford, granted him a full pardon of his actions. The damage, however, was already cemented into the hearts and minds of the American people. As the government recovered from the scandal and began to gain the trust of the people again, Nixon retired from the public life for over two years.
Struggling financially, Nixon published a memoir of his experience, but his publicist felt that a televised broadcast would help accelerate book sales. Many of his supporters viewed the chance to conduct the interview as an opportunity for Nixon to repair his disgraced reputation.
For two hours a day, three days a week, over four weeks, David Frost grilled Nixon for a total of 28 hours and 45 minutes. This was edited into 4 segments, each 90 minutes long. The premier episode was viewed by an estimated audience of 45 million people – the largest television audience for a political interview in history.
Unfortunately for Nixon, the highly anticipated positive reviews were non-existent. After the American public judged for themselves, 72% of the American public still believed he was guilty of obstruction of justice. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the former president maintained his innocence until his death in 1994.