Thursday, May 25, 2006


When the Arabic news service, Al Jezeera announced recently that it was going to start an English language service the cat calls in the English language media went up. While those took many forms they all boiled down to, "The nerve of those wogs. A news service that doesn't say exactly the same thing we say. And now they're going to say it in English,". Perhaps what went unsaid was, "Jesus, competition,".

To make matters worse Al Jezeera was hiring the veteran quasi-newsman David Frost to take a prominent role in their English service. This was an occasion for high indignation and low humor. And it can't be denied that there was a bit of ammunition there. While he has had some interesting coups in his career, the post pardon rebirth of a new, new Nixon being the most famous, it had to be admitted that David Frost was a bit of a show boat and that he could be a real pain in the ass. In the 60s and 70s he wasn't your most serious newsman despite having been on the legendary news show, "That Was The Week That Was,".

Ah, but the times.

Take one of his least serious jobs, his afternoon talk show. I remember one afternoon David Frost had on the Rev. Carl McIntire, now forgotten but one of the foremost radio reverends of the time. He is perhaps most famous for his objection to confirming Nelson Rockefeller as the fill-in Vice President. Ignoring the slaughter at Attica, dumping the mentally ill on the street, and Rocky's already disastrous drug policy, in those quaint times McIntire told the Senate committee that Rockefeller was entirely unacceptable due to his having been divorced before he married Happy. Reagan hadn't made the office safe for Republican divorcees yet. But I digress.

That afternoon the reverend gentleman was David Frost's guest speaking in support of the policy of bombing North Vietnam. Calling for continuing to bomb that tiny country with more bombs than were dropped during the whole of World War Two. Speaking with eloquence for destroying the lives of thousands of Vietnamese civilians as the planes of righteousness bombed the crap out of that tiny country, incinerating children in the name of THE lord, Jesus Christ.

While any of our modern talk shows would have balanced the Reverend with someone who could be counted on to be slightly less enthusiastic or slightly more secular - with all due deference - as they regretfully supported bombing the tar out of Vietnam, David Frost's next guest was John Kenneth Galbraith. He began his part of the conversation by saying to McIntire, "I'm intrigued by your theory of Christian Bombing,". I don't remember exactly how the discussion went on after that, though I know for a fact that McIntire on the best day of his life would have been entirely outclassed by Galbraith entirely comatose. And Galbraith was famous for having the last word.

Ah, yes. There was a time within living memory when the afternoon time slots taken up today with Ellen Degeneris proving that while a lesbian can have a talk show she cannot also demonstrate that she has a brain were filled with the likes of John Kenneth Galbraith holding forth on policy. In the hours when Wolf Blitzer blathers what has all the appearance of being scripted for him by Karl Rove's lesser staffers, David Frost had on people who would likely be blacklisted by commercial television and likely not be invited more than once a year on PBS today. Judge Judy might be Frost's toughest contemporary competition in that time period, with guests more civilized and informed than Bay Buchanan, but remember, she's only in syndication.

Why David Frost isn't treated with more respect than the casts of all of the cabloids combined isn't due to the superficiality of his past work. In the context of today's media, He's a news god.

NOTE: I'm working from memory here, OK? Some things just can't be googled. Though the chances of this having been on Merv Griffin are slender at best.

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