2 September 2013
In a world where the truth lies hidden between a series of well choreographed statements which dance around the listener’s head, and that at first and to most sound entirely acceptable, Sir David Frost lived up to his name and a put a chill on the embellished and the hot heads. He was the architect of the modern interview. Dismantling Margaret Thatcher on TV the then Prime minister in 1982 for her decision to sink the Belgrano, the Argentinean War Ship. David Frost won the respect of the British nation for tackling one of the world’s strongest leaders head on. The Prime Minister’s decision to sink the Argentinean warship triggered the retaliation and the sinking of British vessel HMS Sheffield.
Rightly or wrongly, this had never been done before and he single handedly changed the balance of power from the highest echelons of the world’s statesmen, bringing everyone to earth with his search for truth and his unnerving honesty. Two of the most powerful weapons that seem to allude the modern day leaders across the globe.
He isn’t very easily replaced either. I don’t see many journalists and broadcasters filling such a large pair of shoes. Andrew Marr described David Frost as a man who changed British broadcasting not once but twice. “He was a prime mover in the satire boom of the 1960s. A lot of that was down to him and his drive and shaping, influence and personality.
“And then he changed the whole style of political interviewing: what could be said, how it was done, the whole approach. And I think today there are two types of political interviewer – those who’ve learnt from David Frost, and second rate interviewers.”
Frost was the only person to have interviewed all eight British prime ministers serving between 1964 and 2010 (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron) and all seven US presidents in office between 1969 and 2008 (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) He never had the opportunity to interview Obama, who knowing his reputation for cutting through pleasantries, I’d imagine, Obama took the safest route, but is poorer for not having had the experience.
We all need to be held accountable, especially those of us who find ourselves in privileged positions, and David Frost put himself in the driving seat and earned the right to ask people questions they ordinarily might shy away from. What we don’t want is an Alex Ferguson situation where the larger personalities in the worlds of politics, business, sport and show are able to boycott channels or interviewers because they don’t like the questions they are being asked. It is the interviewer’s right to ask the questions. If you don’t want the publicity then stay at home.
At a time when news and media is being shaken up and having budgets whittled, the hard-hitting journalist is low budget entertainment at the highest level, once you have someone with the social skills and the emotional intelligence of a character like Sir David. The problem is, society is not breeding new ones. Education just isn’t built to unearth creatives in the way it used to.
But Frost was an entrepreneur too, and put up his own money, $800,000 of it, to interview the ex-US president Nixon. A worthwhile venture that is probably his greatest accomplishment. To get honesty from the White House, where historically smokescreens and distraction tactics seem to be more popular, was an achievement.
We lose Frost at a time when David Cameron is attempting to lead us into another unholy war, just like previous Prime Minister Tony Blair, this time with Syria. Who has the strength of character to hold the Prime Minister accountable and remind him of the past encounters? Luckily for us simple folk, we have a breather and the House of Commons has done the right thing and chosen not to engage.
We need the open debates more than ever. We need more people like Frost. In a world where information drifts faster than the wind and the decision to invade or bomb has extraordinary consequences to the families and children of so many people.
Who will be asking the brave questions?
With the War on Iraq as a great example, Tony Blair is now an American celebrity, but the invasion was off the back of a lie. He is a multimillionaire and there are men and women on all sides of the globe without fathers, brothers, wives, children.
On the news this morning, John Kerry US Secretary of Sate said, “Each day that goes by, the case is even stronger. We know that the regime ordered the attack. We know that they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards. We have seen the horrific scenes all over social media, and we have evidence of it in other ways.”
In my mind, there is one piece of news here that’s repeated over and over again to make it sound as though its irrefutable, as though it’s lots of separate pieces of evidence. Just like the War on Iraq. One piece of evidence which turned out to be very misleading and costing hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of pounds to the tax payer.
It’s time we slowed down. Take that second glance on what we are being told. It’s good to question. It’s better to take a few minutes pondering and make the right decision than to go with the herd.
Sir David Frost was one of these people. A brilliant questioner.
If you want to get successful in any walk of life, ask better questions. The result: you will learn far more, far quicker. That pause for thought inevitably speeds up the outcome.
I will remember David Frost, not for his list of incredible interviewees, or his charm or his great questions. For me, his understanding of truth and honesty separate him from the mere mortal and his desire to seek out the right answer at whatever cost. This is what made him a stand out person.
He most certainly influenced me in my lifetime.