Press: Chilly Chat with Henry Kissinger

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The following night, though, he became convinced otherwise. "What NBC was giving Kissinger was a chance to reopen the Cambodian discussion. . . This is tantamount to giving Dr. Kissinger over three days to answer questions supplied in advance." NBC's Small confirmed the unorthodox arrangement, but maintained that anyone questioned over an extended period can easily backtrack to earlier topics, adding: "The important thing journalistically is that there be complete control by the news organization." Unpersuaded, Frost submitted his resignation just one hour before the third and last taping session; he charged that NBC's concession to Kissinger "transgresses fundamental journalistic ethics."

The interview, minus the third taping or any clarifications by Kissinger, was broadcast as scheduled. Despite all the hoopla, the overnight ratings showed that fewer than 10% of the television households in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago watched the program.* The Cambodia segment, edited down to 14 minutes, remained faithful to the original, though it was shorn of some of the testier exchanges and obscure details. (At one point, Kissinger had accused his inquisitor of advancing a "totally one-sided and misleading presentation of events." Snapped Frost: "I think that's nonsense.") But Frost was well satisfied: "The battle for a balanced program was won."

In the early going Kissinger was clearly off balance. As the interview moved to other topics—wiretaps, Chile, morality in foreign policy—his composure returned. So did the familiar Kissinger public persona—guttural as to voice, cool and confident as to manner. Even so, the give-and-take was both livelier and more probing than most television interviews with public figures. Kissinger's remarks were frequently revealing. Said he sadly, in reply to an aggressive Frost question about "irrationality" and "small-mindedness" on the part of his former boss: "Richard Nixon is a man of extraordinary complexity . . . I believe eventually he can be rendered adequately only by a great dramatist and not by a biographer." At the end, Kissinger offered a fine series of thumbnail sketches of world figures whose names Frost fired at him one by one. "And Henry Kissinger?" Frost finally asked. Came a pause and a sheepish smile. "Er, complicated," Kissinger replied.

* The program was aired on Thursday night, when there was supposed to be a break in World Series play. However, bad weather delayed the series a day, and Frost vs. Kissinger had to compete with Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh.

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