James Reston Jr., a liberal historian and novelist who helped get British television host David Frost to admit his involvement in the Watergate scandal to former President Richard M. Nixon and apologize in a painful broadcast interview, died Wednesday at his home in Chevy Chase, MD. He was 82 years old.
His wife, Denise Leary, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Reston, whose father was a well-known figure at the New York Times as a columnist, Washington bureau chief and executive editor, largely sidelined daily journalism to focus on topical and historical nonfiction and novels, and to turn four of his books into plays.
The first of his more than 18 books was “Perfectly Clear: Nixon from Whittier to Watergate”. It was published in 1973 after the Watergate scandal broke out, calling for the President to be impeached after the sabotage of the Democratic headquarters in Washington and the subsequent White House cover-up.
As a result, Mr. Reston rose to prominence when Mr. Frost bought exclusive rights to interview Nixon after the president resigned in 1974 and recruited Mr. Reston as a researcher.
Mr. Reston explained, “I regard this scandal as the greatest political drama of our time.” smithsonian magazine in 2009. “My passion was in opposition to the Vietnam War, which I felt Nixon had unnecessarily extended for six bloody years; in my sympathy for the Vietnam War protesters who were oppressed by the Nixonians; And also in my fears about Watergate. But I was also driven by my own desire for engagement and, I think, a novelist’s sense of theatricality.
He continued, “For several months I scoured the archives, and I found new evidence of Nixon’s collusion with his aide Charles Colson—evidence that I was sure would have surprised Nixon and perhaps forced him out of his studied defense.”
Mr Reston drafted a 96-page brief to surround Mr Frost for nearly 29 hours of interviews – an “interrogation strategy memorandum”, he called it – which would be condensed into four 90-minute television programmes.
“The resulting Frost-Nixon interviews – in particular – proved truly historic,” wrote Mr. Reston. “On May 4, 1977, 45 million Americans watched Frost make a bitter confession from Nixon about his role in the scandal: ‘I let the American people down, and I will carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.'”
“In the broadcast,” Mr. Reston continued, “the interviewer’s victory seemed quick, and Nixon’s entrance seemed seamless. In reality, it was painstakingly drawn out over two days by a slow grinding process.”
Mr. Reston’s book, “The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews” (2007), It was developed into a play, “Frost/Nixon”, by Peter Morgan, which was developed into a film by the same title in 2008. Sam Rockwell as Mr. Reston In the movie.
Mr. Reston once described his work as “Chain of Passion” – on topics ranging from the age-old conflict between Christianity and Islam to two painful personal experiences.
In “Fragile Innocence”: A Father’s Memoir of His Daughter’s Adventure” (2006), he wrote about his 18-month-old daughter’s experience with a viral brain infection that caused seizures and destroyed her language skills. She was treated with medication that caused kidney failure and required a life-saving transplant, for which she waited eight years.
In “A Crack in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for the Vietnam War Memorial” (2017), Mr. Reston linked his experience as an Army intelligence officer to the difficult debate about how to most appropriately memorialize what he described as “the first lost war in American history”.
If his other books were less personal, they were no less sentimental.
Among them were “The Innocence of Joan Little: A Southern Mystery” (1977) about a North Carolina inmate accused of stabbing her jailer to death, whom she said had tried to rape her; “Our Father Who Art in Hell: The Life and Death of Jim Jones” (1981), about the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana in 1978; and “Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti” (1991), about the baseball star and baseball commissioner who banned Rose from the game for betting on the game.
Texas Governor John B. In “The Lone Star” (1989), a biography of Connally Jr., Mr. Reston describes the newly elected Mr. Connally in 1963 as follows:
“He stood in his elegant shoes with the rich above the poor, the business executive above the working man, the white above the black and the Hispanic, the glamorous above the common man. In short, he modeled Texas royalty on Texas farmers. He was an irritant, a polarizing figure who evoked feelings of deep loyalty and outright contempt, even hatred.
In another book, “The Accidental Victim: JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Real Target in Dallas” (2013), he wrote that Mr. Connally, who was in a car with President John F. Kennedy at the time of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1963, was Oswald’s intended target. Oswald, he wrote, would have blamed Mr. Connally, as Secretary of the Navy, for failing to reconsider his dishonorable discharge from the Marines.
James Barrett Reston Jr. was born on March 8, 1941, in Manhattan, where his father had been reassigned from the London and Washington bureaus of The Times. The family moved to Washington when James Jr. was 2 years old.
His mother, Sarah Jane (Fulton) Reston, known as Sally, was a journalist, photographer, and later publisher of The Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. with her husband. James Jr. was a part owner of the newspaper until the family sold it in 2010.
After attending St. Albans School in Washington, Mr. Reston attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Morehead scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy there in 1963.
As a student he was active in the movement to desegregate public housing in Chapel Hill. He also set the university’s single-game soccer scoring record of five goals.
But like many children of prominent parents, he carried a special burden with college as he considered a professional life.
His wife referred to his father by his nickname, saying, “It was hard for him to step out of that giant shadow of Scotty.” “Everyone expects you to be exactly their father. He was working with the expectation that he would write about politics, write columns.”
He added, “It was very important for him to develop his reputation and get out of Washington.”
Mr. Reston was briefly a reporter for The Chicago Daily News from 1964-65 and served in the military from 1965-68. He was a lecturer in creative writing at his alma mater, North Carolina, from 1971 to 1981.
In 1983, he was nominated by Newsweek, PBS and the BBC as the first writer to join a NASA space shuttle crew. (Space exploration was one of his acknowledged “passions.”) He didn’t make the final cut, and the project was ultimately canceled.
She married Denise Brender Leary, whom she had met while working on a poverty alleviation program in New York City. Besides him, he is survived by his daughters, Maeve and Hilary Reston; their son, Devin; two brothers, Tom and Richard; and two grandchildren.
At the time of his death, Mr. Reston was working on two books, which are to be published posthumously. One is on the Episcopal cleric accused of heresy. The second is a biography of the 13th-century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
asked by Georgia Review To describe his biggest professional achievement in 2018, Mr Reston replied: “I think overall work. I wanted to live the literary life and it has been a rocky road, but I persevered, and I have a body of work that I am proud of – proud of its range, and I have engaged in many important, still-relevant issues over the last 40 years.