Monday, February 20, 2012

An Historian Errs On The Nixon Library

Former Nixon archivist Maarja Krusten raises questions about historian Benjamin Hufbauer's review in a scholarly journal of the Nixon library's Watergate exhibit, particularly the transfer of the private library to the National Archives. We first tried to get the library into NARA in 1995-6, not 2005, as Hufbauer writes. This passage in his review is especially egregious:
[M]embers of the foundation thought they could still have a shrine to Nixon but have the government pay for it. They were wrong. In 2006 when NARA took over, the newly installed Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, personally recruited Timothy Naftali to be the first director of the Nixon Library under federal management. Naftali and Weinstein agreed that the primary goal for the museum would be a detailed and historically accurate account of the Watergate events.
It is Hufbauer who is wrong. As library director and Richard Nixon's co-executor, I conducted the negotiations with NARA along with Kathy O'Connor, Nixon's last chief of staff. Before the handover, we agreed that the Watergate exhibit would be replaced. For the first federal director, I recommended one name to deputy archivist Sharon Fawcett: Tim Naftali, Cold War historian and presidential tapes expert. Within days, she'd placed a call inviting him to be considered. Archivist Allen Weinstein told me later that my idea had been brilliant and that the same notion "had occurred to me."

After Naftali was named, I suggested to Fawcett and Weinstein, and they agreed, that Naftali should redo the Watergate exhibit rather than our trying to design one that would be acceptable to the government. Before NARA had even taken possession of the museum, Natftali asked my permission to tear out the old exhibit, which I granted.

Hufbauer's account was apparently informed solely by the Bob Haldeman revanchists who took over Nixon's foundation in the fall of 2009 after Naftali invited John Dean to give a speech (see here, here, and here), who battled him relentlessly over the Watergate exhibit, but who had no involvement in the handover negotiations with NARA.

Thanks to my sister blogger Maarja for sending me the article.

Photos: Nixon library handover ceremony, 2007: (f) Foundation chairman Don Bendetti and Archivist of the U.S. Weinstein; (b) Fawcett, Taylor, Naftali, and O'Connor. Right: Naftali and O'Connor


MK said...

Thank you for this thoughtful recap of events you've previously discussed here at your blog. I considered trying to summarize your recollections at my blog yesterday, but decided to send you Ben Hufbauer's article, instead. As I've said previously, between your blog and mine, and all our connections, we really are doing real time oral history in written form in the world of web 2.0. Many thanks for your kind words, friend.


Fr. John said...

Thanks, MK. As I read how Hufbauer wrote Kathy and me out of the story, the phrase "lost generation" came to mind!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Taylor,

I stand corrected. And I certainly apologize for and regret the error.

I think some of the larger points of my review of the Watergate exhibit are still valid.

Best, Ben Hufbauer

Fr. John said...

Thank you, Dr. Hufbauer.

MK said...

John, I know what you mean! But knowing Ben Hufbauer, I would guess that was inadvertent. I don't think he has been reading your blog or mine. My doing on my part, I block Google searches for my blog. Fedland acculturation! Plunged into blogging to "save Tim Naftali," honored that you tag teamed with me, John, but all too aware of how dangerous Hidden Washington can be. My best to you and to the brave and noble Kathy O'Connor, as well!

Dr. Hufbauer, I appreciate your gracious comment to John Taylor here. Reflects so well on you. I read your review in the Journal of American History with great interest and found much of it to be insightful and on point. The Nixon tragedy stretched out far beyond what it should have, in my view, in part because some of his supporters did not study the record before they agreed to partner with a federal library.

I know that, because I am the National Archives team leader who first identified the "abuse of governmental power" information that went into Tim Naftali's exhibit. That exhibit is mine as much as it is Tim Naftali's.

Be well,