Nixon's backers make last stand over Watergate

Take a healthy dose of paranoia. Toss in dark allegations of a left-wing smear campaign. Finish with a furious dispute over whether to give the American public access to some potentially revelatory tape recordings, and you've got a simmering political controversy that could only really involve one man: the former US president Richard Nixon.

Three and a half decades after Nixon was removed from office, and 16 years after his death, friends and admirers of the 37th occupant of the White House are attempting to prevent his Presidential Library from educating visitors in gory details of a certain little affair called Watergate.

For years, the museum, which stands on the site of "tricky Dicky's" birthplace and former childhood home in Orange County, California, has treated the most notorious scandal in modern history as a sort of minor mishap, relegating the only exhibit about it to a dusty corridor connecting rooms full of such memorabilia as Mrs Nixon's cocktail dresses with the gift shop.

But in 2007, the Nixon Foundation – an organisation of the president's former cronies and admirers which had run the library since it opened in 1990 – agreed to hand control of it to the US National Archive, which runs all of America's other presidential libraries. And the new management immediately set about attempting to properly chronicle the series of events that sparked Nixon's downfall.

Timothy Naftali, the library's incoming curator, interviewed 150 of the key players in the scandal, making a film which he hoped to display on vast plasma screens in a new gallery. Next to them, on a 30ft wall, would hang documents, memorabilia, and tapes of phone conversations revealing Nixon's links to the burglary at the Watergate complex in Washington in 1972.

The swanky new exhibit would also include a scale model showing where the president placed bugs and surveillance devices at the White House and Camp David during his subsequent attempt to cover up the abuse of power. It was due to open on 1 July, in time for celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the library's opening.

But as of yesterday, it had yet to open. Instead, the space at the library where 95,000 visitors are supposed to come each year to learn about a turbulent chapter in American history stands empty and unloved. "Please excuse our dust," reads a small sign. "We are currently building a new Watergate gallery."

The reason for the delay, it turns out, lies squarely in the hands of The Nixon Foundation. Its members believe the proposed exhibit will provide a distorted and unnecessarily condemnatory portrayal of their political hero, and has therefore blocked its installation.

Under the terms by which the foundation handed over the library three years ago, it has an "advisory role" which forces the National Archive to properly consider any objections it might have regarding both the management of the attraction, and any proposed changes to its contents.

A letter detailing the organisation's concerns about what it believes is the one-sided nature of the new Watergate exhibit was therefore sent last month to the Archive. The new gallery cannot open until that letter is responded to. And, to the dismay of Mr Naftali, it runs to no less than 132 pages of prose.

"It is the last fight over Watergate," he told reporters about the dispute this week, adding that he was unwilling to let the Nixon Library (which under National Archive rules must provide an unbiased presentation of history) advance conservative propaganda. "I am not a Nixon loyalist. I am not even a Republican," he said. "I am gay. I am from Canada."

That sort of talk only inflames the Nixon Foundation. Although they refuse to make their 132-page letter public, or to provide a detailed account of everything they dislike about the proposed Watergate exhibit, Bob Bostock, a former Nixon aide who drafted the lengthy objection, said the library should instead celebrate the president's achievements: ending the war in Vietnam, and building diplomatic relations with China.

"Taping and wiretapping go back as far as FDR," he told The New York Times. "It lacks the context it needs: that Nixon was not the first president to do some of these things and that some of these things had been going on with many of his predecessors, in some cases, much more than he did."

His complaint has bemused many historians, who point out that Nixon was not forced to quit because of taping and wiretapping (which merely provided evidence of wider abuses of power). Among their number is Jon Wiener, a professor of history at the University of California in Irvine, who brings students on an annual trip to the library, which sits on a picturesque site where Nixon's father, a failed citrus grower, attempted to start a family farm.

"I understand the foundation's general outlook, which is that all other presidential libraries defend the actions of presidents," he told The Independent. "They say, 'Why should we be any different?' But with Watergate there is a reason why they should: Nixon was the only president to have resigned rather than face impeachment, and the National Archive has an obligation to historians, and to visitors, and to school parties and students who come here, to explain why that happened."

Suggested Topics
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
news
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Cover Supervisor Ugently Required In Sefton Area **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for Secondary...

Music Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments