Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nixon Library Loses Watergate Whitewash

New York Times:
YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) -- The privately operated Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace was officially handed over to federal archivists Wednesday and researchers can pore over documents and tapes detailing ''the good, the bad and the ugly'' on the 37th president and his legacy.

After a simple opening ceremony, library officials and docents shared champagne and cake before moving to the research room to view 78,000 newly released Nixon papers and listen to 11 1/2 hours of audio tape. ...

For nearly 20 years, library visitors were told the Watergate scandal was really a ''coup'' by Nixon's rivals and the investigative reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein offered bribes for their nation-shaking scoops.

The new library director is taking some of the whitewash off the scandal resulting from the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington and the subsequent White House cover-up. The revised account is a precondition for receiving 42 million pages of the former president's papers and nearly 4,000 hours of tapes, which will be moved to California in several years once Congress approves funding for a 15,000-square-foot addition.

Transition to federal control ushers the black sheep of presidential libraries into the fold of the prestigious National Archives. ...

The documents show a keen interest, if not preoccupation, with stage-managing Nixon's appearances and include advice that he pay more attention to his wife, Pat, when the two are in public.

''From time to time he should talk to her and smile at her,'' TV adviser Roger Ailes told Nixon's chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, in a May 1970 memo, after noting that the president walked away from her at a Houston event and she had to run to catch up. ''Women voters are particularly sensitive to how a man treats his wife in public.''...

With the stamp of the federal system for library comes a major makeover for certain less-than-accurate exhibits -- a relief to Nixon scholars who were frustrated by the way the private institution had portrayed the Watergate scandal and Nixon's foreign policy.

Naftali recently oversaw the demolition of the revisionist Watergate gallery, including a section that said the scandal was a coup plotted by Democrats. The museum also told visitors that the infamous 18 1/2 minute gap in one important White House tape -- a conversation three days after the break-in -- was because of a mechanical malfunction.

''No serious historian believes in that,'' said David Greenberg, a Nixon scholar and professor at Rutgers University. ''It's not only not true, it's the opposite of truth. There was a lot along those lines in the library, which was not a matter of interpretation, but was flat wrong, a lie.''

Roger Ailes now runs Fox News. He has a long history of "fair and balanced" advice. Maybe some interesting tidbits still to come.
I await the commentary of my esteemed colleague, UW presidential historian Stanley Kutler, on all this, and will link to him when he has delivered himself of his remarks on the Nixon Library, past and present.

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