James Reston Jr., an eclectic historian and novelist who helped British television host David Frost persuade former President Richard M. Nixon to admit his complicity in the Watergate scandal and apologize in a tense broadcast interview, died Wednesday at his home in Chevy Chase. , Md. He was 82.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Denise Leary.

Mr. Reston, whose father was a prominent figure at The New York Times as a columnist, Washington bureau chief and managing editor, has largely bypassed daily journalism to focus on timely and historical nonfiction and novels and to adapt four of his books into plays.

Among the first of his more than 18 books was “Perfectly Clear: Nixon From Whittier to Watergate.” Published as the Watergate scandal unfolded in 1973, it prompted the president’s impeachment following the break-in at Democratic headquarters in Washington and the subsequent White House cover-up.

As a result, Mr. Reston was primed when Mr. Frost bought exclusive rights to interview Nixon after the president resigned in 1974 and recruited Mr. Reston as an investigator.

“I viewed the scandal as the greatest political drama of our time,” Mr. Reston said Smithsonian magazine in 2009. “My passion lay in my opposition to the Vietnam War, which I felt Nixon unnecessarily continued for six bloody years; in my sympathy for Vietnam War resisters who were shot by the Nixonians; and because of my horror over Watergate itself. But I was also driven by my desire for engagement and, I like to think, a novelist’s sense of the drama.”

He added, “For many months I combed the archives, and I came across new evidence of Nixon’s collusion with his assistant Charles Colson in the cover-up – evidence that I was sure would surprise Nixon and perhaps shake him out of his studied defenses.”

Mr. Reston drafted a 96-page report — an “interrogation strategy,” he called it — to rope in Mr. Frost for nearly 29 hours of interviews that would be condensed into four 90-minute television programs.

“The resulting Frost-Nixon interviews — one in particular — did prove historic,” Mr. Reston wrote. “On May 4, 1977, 45 million Americans watched Frost elicit a sad admission from Nixon about his part in the scandal: ‘I let the American people down, and I must carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.’

“On the broadcast,” Mr. Reston continued, “the interviewer’s victory seemed swift, and Nixon’s admission seemed to come seamlessly. In reality, it was painfully extracted by a slow, grinding process over two days.”

Mr. Reston’s book, “The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews” (2007), was developed into a play, “Frost/Nixon”, by Peter Morgan, which in turn was developed into a film under the same title in 2008. Sam Rockwell played Mr. Reston in the movie.

Mr. Reston once described his work as a “A Series of Obsessions” — on topics ranging from the ancient conflict between Christianity and Islam to two agonizing personal experiences.

In “Delicate Innocence: A Father’s Memoir of His Daughter’s Courageous Journey” (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 a drug that caused kidney failure and necessitated a life-saving transplant for which she waited eight years.

In “A Crack in the Earth: Art, Memory and the Battle for a Vietnam War Memorial” (2017), Mr. Reston connected his experience as a military intelligence officer with the bruising debate about how best to remember what he described as “the first lost war in American history.”

In “The Innocence of Joan Little” (1977), Mr. Reston wrote about a North Carolina inmate who was accused of killing her jailer, who she said had tried to rape her.

If his other books were less personal, they were no less passionate.

Among them were “The Innocence of Joan Little: A Southern Mystery” (1977), about a North Carolina inmate who was charged with murder in the stabbing death of her jailer, who she said 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 the baseball commissioner who banned Rose from the game on allegations that he bet on games.

In “The Lone Star” (1989), a biography of Texas Gov. John B. Connally Jr., Mr. Reston described a newly elected Mr. Connally in 1963 as follows:

“He stood in his elegant boots with the rich above the poor, the business manager above the worker, white above black and Hispanic, the fancy above the ordinary. In short, he symbolized Texas royalty over Texas peasantry. He was a taunted, polarizing figure, engendering feelings of intense loyalty and utter 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 riding in the car with President John F. Kennedy when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, was Oswald’s intended target. Oswald, he wrote, may have blamed Mr. Connally for failing, as Navy secretary, to reconsider his dishonorable discharge of the Marines.

“He symbolized Texas royalty over Texas peasantry,” Mr. Reston wrote of Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas in this 1989 biography.

James Barrett Reston Jr. was born on March 8, 1941, in Manhattan, where his father was reassigned from the London and Washington bureaus of The Times. The family moved to Washington when James Jr. was 2.

His mother, Sarah Jane (Fulton) Reston, who was known as Sally, was a journalist, photographer and, later with her husband, publisher of The Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. James Jr. was part owner of the newspaper until the family sold it in 2010.

After examining the St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., 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 from college because he considered a professional life.

“It was hard for him to step out of that enormous shadow of Scotty,” his wife said, referring to her father by his nickname. “Everyone expects you to be exactly your father. He dealt with the expectation that he would write about politics, write columns.”

She added, “It was very important for him to develop his own reputation and get out of Washington.”

Mr. Reston was briefly a reporter for The Chicago Daily News, from 1964-65, and served in the Army from 1965-68. He was a lecturer in creative writing at North Carolina, his alma mater, from 1971 to 1981.

In 1983, he was nominated by Newsweek, PBS and the BBC to be the first writer to join a NASA space shuttle crew. (Space exploration was another of his acknowledged “obsessions.”) He didn’t make the final cut, and the project was ultimately scrapped.

He married Denise Brender Leary, whom he met while working in an anti-poverty program in New York. In addition to her, he is survived by their daughters, Maeve and Hillary 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 to be published posthumously. One is on an Episcopal clergyman accused of heresy. The other is a biography of Frederick II, the 13th-century emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Asked by The Georgia Review in 2018 to describe his greatest professional achievement, Mr Reston replied: “The overall work, I think. I wanted to live the literary life and it was a rocky road, but I persevered, and I have a body of work that I’m proud of — proud of its range, and with which I have been involved in many important, still. -related matters in the last 40 years.”

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *