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The Nation

March 31, 2011

Watergate gets new makeover at the Nixon library

LOS ANGELES — History is being restored at the Richard Nixon Library, where the Watergate exhibit once told visitors nearly four decades after the scandal led to his resignation that it was really a "coup" by his rivals.

For years the library exhibit that retraces the former president's notorious saga was a target of ridicule, panned for omissions and editing that academics and critics said shaped a legacy favorable to the tainted 37th president.

On Thursday, archivists will present a revamped and expanded version of the exhibit at the Yorba, Calif., library, a $500,000 makeover they say is faithful to fact, balanced and devoid of political judgment.

"What we tried to do is lay out the record and encourage visitors to come in ... and draw their own conclusions," said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives.

Some material has never before been on public display, and it includes interviews with, among others, Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and Nixon special counsel Charles Colson, who went to prison for seven months in 1975 for crimes related to the Watergate.

The exhibit opening marks a milestone for the library, whose tangled history is marked by uneasy relations between Nixon loyalists and the National Archives, which took over the site in 2007 and oversees the presidential library system.

When the library opened in private hands in 1990, Nixon biographer Stephen E. Ambrose wrote that commentary heard on one heavily edited Watergate tape "would almost convince a listener that Nixon never ordered a cover-up or a payment of hush money." The private Richard Nixon Foundation, which ran the site at the time, makes clear on its website the exhibit was "President Nixon's perspective" of the scandal that brought down his presidency.

Nixon White House aide Bruce Herschensohn believes that Nixon's perspective should have remained, saying presidential libraries should be a "shrine."

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