Monday, February 18, 2008

Welcome To The New Nixon

My first blog post ever, at The New Nixon, which I launched at the Nixon foundation on February 18, 2008:
While the handover of the Nixon Library to the National Archives last year was a high point in our institutional life, it was a drag for us personally at the Nixon Foundation, what with being called liars, haters, and belligerent and hostile paranoids who had been mean to Carl Bernstein.

The attacks began in July when a reporter for the Associated Press, Gillian Flaccus, published an article containing a ham-handed poke at our integrity by historian David Greenberg. The private Library’s Watergate exhibit (removed by Uncle Sam a year ago) had text telling visitors that the famous 18 1/2 –minute gap on a Watergate tape might have been accidental. “It’s not only not true,” Flaccus quoted Greenberg as saying, “it’s the opposite of truth. There was a lot along those lines in the library, which was not a matter of interpretation, but flat wrong, a lie.” Having overseen creation of the original museum, and since some experts indeed said it was possible the erasure was accidental, I wrote an article about Greenberg’s charge for the Nixon Foundation web site. In an e-mail, he chastised me for getting “worked up” and said that Flaccus had misquoted him. He told me what he had meant to say was a lie was our exhibit’s presentation about a group of Democratic House members who in 1973 tried to persuade their leadership to leave the Vice Presidency empty long enough following Spiro Agnew’s resignation to enable the Democratic Speaker, Carl Albert, to become President in the event RN resigned. Writes one authority, “This is the closest to a coup d’etat that the country has ever come.” So that wasn’t a lie, either.

In addition to his denunciations via the AP at the time of the handover last summer, Greenberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Will the Nixon Foundation…stay out of all questions of access to tapes and papers? Or will it continue to throw up roadblocks for scholars?” Writing to him again, I said that he hadn’t yet correctly identified a lie in our museum and that, contrary to his derogatory implication, he was well aware that the Nixon family and Foundation had enabled the opening of massive caches of records. Contradicting his own article, Greenberg wrote back, “I did not imply that you are intending to ‘roadblock scholars on documents’.” For attempting to hold him accountable for falsely accusing us of being liars to tens of millions of newspaper readers, he accused me of “belligerence…hostility and paranoia.”

More such unpleasant qualities in your Nixon Foundation servants were identified by LA Times reporter Christopher Goffard in an October 2007 article celebrating Carl Bernstein’s appearance at the Nixon Library. My wife and colleague Kathy and I had hung out with Bernstein in Austin once. We even had invited him to go see Steve Earle at La Zona Rosa with us (he politely declined). We weren’t in Yorba Linda for his visit because Director Tim Naftali arranged it while we were on a cruise that had been scheduled for months. Goffard implied that we had snubbed Bernstein intentionally and went on to report that Bernstein had long been an “arch-villain” who “elicited special loathing” at the private Nixon Library.

The evidence for Goffard’s attacks? You guessed it: Our old Watergate exhibit, which, Goffard wrote, “falsely accused” Woodward and Bernstein of wrongdoing. It’s certainly true that the exhibit (written by a diligent and highly ethical political insider, Bob Bostock) contained a quotation about “Woodward and Bernstein’s failure to address any of the ethical deficiencies of their investigative reporting, including offering of bribes, illegally gaining access to telephone numbers, and talking to members of the grand jury.” But was this the work of a snarling Nixon partisan? Not hardly. The quote came from The Wars of Watergate by historian Stanley Kutler. A reliable critic of the late President, Kutler was praised for his book’s meticulousness by the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh. Just to be perfectly clear, this means Christopher Goffard has called Stanley Kutler a liar. Work it out peacefully, okay, guys? And next time, leave us out of it.

For including Kutler’s words in our museum, did my colleagues and I deserve to be attacked in the news columns of the LA Times? For our positions on Watergate issues about which gentlemen might differ, why did an historian call us liars? I guess there are folks who are even more emotionally invested in this Nixon stuff than we are. Richard Norton Smith, historian and visionary head of five Presidential libraries, is right: History really is too important to be left to the historians – or for that matter, to the journalists. That’s where you come in. Welcome to The New Nixon.

No comments: