Saturday, April 02, 2011
After decades of being derided as little more than a legacy-and-curio shop designed to burnish Richard Nixon's image at the expense of the historical record, the Yorba Linda library bearing his name has unveiled a raw and detailed look at the scandal that drove him from office.
The $500,000 Watergate exhibit, four years in the making, features interactive screens, White House tapes and 131 taped interviews that replace the perfunctory, much-ridiculed narrative of Watergate that Nixon himself approved when the library opened with private funds in 1990.
Where the old exhibit featured a heavily edited version of the "smoking gun" tape that sealed Nixon's resignation in 1974, the new exhibit presents it in full. Where the old text contended that a "mechanical malfunction" explained the infamous 18 1/2-minute gap in a key Nixon conversation, visitors will now be told it was probably a deliberate erasure. And where the old text portrayed the scandal as a "coup" engineered by Nixon's enemies, the new narrative places the Watergate burglary within a broader pattern of dirty tricks, spying and sabotage by the Nixon White House.
Timothy Naftali, director of the federally run library, said Thursday the exhibit reflected "our self-confidence as a people" and a democracy unafraid of examining "evidence of its own wrongdoing." At its core, Naftali said, the Watergate story was about "the self-correcting mechanism of our Constitution when one of the branches exceeds its authority."