NBC News and former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger issued new defenses of their positions today together with complete transcripts of the contentious David Frost interview of the former diplomat that became a triangular battle royal last week.
NBC said it had not compromised journalistic standards, as Frost had charged; Kissinger attacked the intent and basis of several of Frost's questions, and the transcript shows that Frost and Kissinger snarled at each other throughout the 50-minute taping session on Cambodia.
The transcript reads very differently from the usual Kissinger performance. He does not dominate but is instead repeatedly thrown off balance by Frost's interruptions and refusals to let questions go unanswered.
The entire 50-minute session is devoted, in effect, to a single question: Where does responsibility lie for the destruction of Cambodia?
The edited transcript will be aired at 10 p.m. Thursday.
The controversy began late last Wednesday when Kissinger stormed out of an NBC studio after the taping and reportedly told the network he would not appear with Frost again despite plans for a second session on other subjects.
Steps taken to mollify Kissinger who had agreed to do the interviews as part of his five-year, $1 million contract with NBC, enraged Frost. He quit the project, hurling accusations that NBC had abandoned journalistic ethics to protect the former secretary of state.
NBC plans to preface the telecast with an explanation of the "live controversy behind the scenes". The statement acknowledges that Frost has withdrawn from the project but denies that Kissinger was given any guarantees over what material would be included or "any privilege that would compromise journalistic standards."
"At all times, Mr. Frost was encouraged by NBC News to ask tough and difficult questions," a network spokesman said.
People close to Frost called NBC's explanatory statement true but misleading. They have said that while NBC urged Frost to ask tough questions, news executives expressed dismay at the way he bore in with follow-up questions. The treatment was inappropriate for a former secretary of state, NBC executives were known to feel.
Frost's questions reflect the argument set forth in a recent brook, "sideshow," by British journalist William Shawcross, that Nixon-Kissinger policies were the root cause of Cambodia's misfortunes. Shawcross was one of those who aided Frost in preparing for the interview.
Kissinger repeatedly says that the North Vietnamese violated Cambodian neutrality four years before the United States began Bombing Cambodia and that Hanoi must be blamed for the widening of the Vietnamese War which eventually engulfed Cambodia.
"I am suggesting that the [Cambodia] policy was out of control," Frost says at one point.
"No, what you have is one-sided documentation of people who are now using Cambodia as an alibi for a general attitude toward Indochina. What you have is a totally one-sided misleading presentation of events," Kissinger replies.
"Okay, well, I think that's nonsense," Frost says.
"Please let me finish," Kissinger asks at several points. He also urges Frost to ask about Vietnam. "Your whole line of questioning is making a mockery of what was going on in Indochina. You are concentrating on one country. You are not discussing what was going on in Vietnam at all," Kissinger says.
Frost suggests to Kissinger that before the Nixon administration the United States had been willing to live with the North Vietnamese troop presence in Cambodia because Washington didn't want to destroy a country. The exchange that follows exemplifies the sharp back-and-forth quality of the interview.
Kissinger: "We weren't destroying a country when we were-"
Frost: "We started to destroy a country-"
Kissinger: "We did not start to destroy a country-"
Frost: "From our point of view-"
Kissinger: "We did not start to destroy a country from any-"
Frost: "The North Vietnamese were there for four years before . . . I agree."
Kissinger: "We did not start to destroy a country from anybody's point of view when we were bombing seven isolated North Vietnamese base areas within some five miles of the Vietnamese border, from which attacks were being launched into South Vietnam."
The unedited transcript, containing much on Cambodia that will not be included in Thursday evening's one-hour broadcast, was made public at Kissinger's suggestion.The transcript was released along with a copy of a letter from Kissinger to NBC News president William Small.
Kissinger's letter attacks Frost's inferences and questions on six points. One is an error in Frost's questioning based on an error in the Shawcross book, which in turn was based on an error in a Pentagon document.
The Pentagon slip led Shawcross and Frost to charge that "base area 704" had been bombed despite having been described in a memo from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the defense secretary as heavily populated.
Kissinger correctly denied that 704 was bombed during the secret B52 attacks on North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia Rather, "base area 740" was bombed. The Pentagon described it as sparsely populated by an estimated 1,136 civilians.
In his letter to Small, Kissinger says recommendations of targets were accompanied by a statement "that civilian casualties were expected to be minimal."
In the taping session, Kissinger said that "every recommendations (sic) that was received in the White House from either the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or from the secretary of defense indicated that there was no danger of civilian casualty."
That is the position Kissinger took in the past, but its restatement will not be included in the broadcast because NBC, Frost and Shawcross agreed that the segment containing the error over identification of the base areas should not be shown.
The taping session ended with Frost calling a halt to the skirmish by saying, "I think we've reached the end of this."
"We certainly have," Kissinger replied, "and I'm glad we've debated this subject . . . ."
Then the uproar off-camera began.