Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Turning On The Fawcetts

This morning historian and blogger Maarja Krusten writes:
John Fawcett retired in 1994 and became an archival consultant. NARA staff told me in the 1990s that he was advising the Nixon Foundation at one point but I only have anecdotal evidence of that. (I know John Taylor worked with Fawcett. I’ll have to ask John if this occurred in the form of a consultancy in addition to Fawcett having worked at NARA.) I thought of that, when I read [journalist Andrew] Gumbel state that the Nixon Foundation offered Sharon Fawcett a consultancy after she retired from NARA late this spring. Interesting echo, perhaps. Given the wording in Gumbel’s article, I don’t know if Sharon actually accepted the offer.
John and Sharon used to be married. John finished his long National Archives career at the beginning of the Clinton administration. His last post was assistant archivist for presidential libraries. Sharon served in the same capacity for many years and retired earlier this year. Both ended up being offered consultancies by the private Nixon foundation. Krusten is struck by the symmetry. I don't blame her.

Despite their considerable influence across many years over how White House records are handled, they've managed to stay more or less below the radar. Though she's shown here with Bill Clinton, most of Sharon's Internet hits are consequences of the Nixon wars. A cursory Google search reveals no photos of John.

To answer Krusten's question, in the early 2000s, when I was Nixon foundation chief, I hired John (by then retired from NARA, where he helped engineer a curious, brief tilt to Nixon) as we prepared for the handover of the private Nixon library to the National Archives. Since 1991, our private reading room and archives had been operated by Susan Naulty. She was doggedly opposed to making the Nixon library part of NARA and later became a critic of director Tim Naftali, associating him with the left for inviting former White House counsel John Dean to Yorba Linda. Years before, during the battle between the Nixon foundation and Tricia Cox over the $19 million bequest of Nixon buddy Bebe Rebozo, Naulty developed a unwonted media profile by discussing the size of her staff with the Los Angeles Times. Her comments dovetailed with attacks by Cox ally Irv Gellman, who claimed that the library was poorly managed because we didn't give Naulty more resources. Gellman, Naulty, and her assistant had worked together closely when he was researching his book The Contender.

When we'd settled our lawsuit against Cox and Rebozo's money was safely ensconced in our endowment, we began to focus on facilitating a government handover. The headline on an earlier post reflects our midset: "Take My Library. Please." I became more curious about the differences between Naulty and NARA practice. Would we be able to stretch our resources further if she stopped refusing to use computers and processing records document by document, typing up one or more index cards for each letter, telegram, or memo (yes, Virginia, we had a card catalog)? The government processed folder by folder. So I invited John Fawcett, then working as an archival consultant, to take a look. He concluded that it would take Naulty hundreds of years to finish preparing our small cache of Nixon's pre-presidential records for scholars. When I hired a former Reagan library archivist to oversee a transition toward NARA practice, Naulty quit.

We don't know anything about the consultancy those now controlling Nixon's foundation have reportedly offered Sharon Fawcett. She and I agreed in 2006 that Naftali should redo the library's Watergate exhibit. I'm curious (and no doubt Krusten is as well) about why in 2010 she, as a top National Archives official, seems to have sided against Naftali in favor of the Nixon-turned-Haldeman foundation and a Watergate truth panel that included perjurer Dwight Chapin. As for John Fawcett, ironically enough, back in the day he helped the Nixon foundation nudge a little closer to National Archives practice and procedure.

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