, Salem, MA

The Nation

March 31, 2011

Watergate gets new makeover at the Nixon library



"I can only come to the conclusion it will probably be a hit piece," he said. "This is the Nixon library. This is his place. He's buried there ... and so is Mrs. Nixon."

He said the library has veered from archival work into politically charged interpretation since going under federal control in 2007

The Watergate scandal began with a burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington, which eventually led to evidence of widespread wrongdoing in the Nixon White House and the president's resignation on Aug. 8, 1974.

The Nixon library, built with private money, was for years the only presidential library not part of the National Archives. That was because of a post-Watergate law mandating that Nixon's presidential records remain in the Washington, D.C., area. Lawmakers were afraid he would destroy documents necessary for the Watergate investigation.

The prohibition was eventually lifted by legislation pushed by California Republicans eager to incorporate the Nixon library into the national system.

Since the federal takeover, the foundation serves an advisory role. Last year it filed lengthy objections to the new exhibit, saying it lacked context to explain Nixon's decision-making.

Dismantled several years ago, the library's original Watergate exhibit was the largest of any at the site at the time, and the foundation stresses that no one found a factual error in its text or exhibits. Visitors followed documents, text and photographs arrayed along a long, darkened hallway.

Critics said it all amounted to a whitewash. "The presentation makes the best possible case for Nixon, mainly in Nixon's own words, and is entirely self-serving," Ambrose, the historian, wrote in a Los Angeles Times column.

Presidential libraries often tend toward veneration, but there is no other president forced from office during his term. At President Bill Clinton's library, opened in 2004, visitors pass along hardwood floors through an open-air exhibit, and a timeline in the center marks Clinton's time in office. An alcove exhibit off the timeline addresses the former president's impeachment and acquittal over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

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