Where I stand depends on where I sit . . . . or in this case . . . . where I used to sit. It is so true.
Those of us who lived through the days of what came to be known as “Watergate”, the days of reading about our pals in the Washington Post every day, seeing them accused and vilified, hauled in front of a grand jury for countless hours while their legal bills sky rocketed, go to trial, and be convicted of perjury, not wrongdoing, and end up in prison. Those were tough times. I think anyone would eventually perjure themselves after countless grand jury sessions, under oath, that were spread out over several days. How much you paid for a ham sandwich on a specific lunch hour could eventually land you in the pokey if your answers failed to line up.
It was so unfair. It really hurt.
I used to have a pretty complete opinion of it all, but as I seem to deal with most things unpleasant, I pulled a shade. Now I don’t remember too many details of that terrible time. I wish I could call on my old brain and have a visit with it today.
Because today the Richard Nixon Library has a brand new Watergate Exhibit. The old one had been called a white wash among other things. When the National Archives joined the Nixon Library and Birthplace in 2007, almost the very first thing that the new Director, Dr. Tim Naftali, did was rip out the old Watergate Exhibit and put up a sign that said, “COMING SOON: New Watergate Exhibit”. The sign sat on a temporary easel for three long years. The worst thing about the sign was that Dr. Naftali chose to use a picture of the Watergate Apartment/Hotel complex that looked like Armageddon. It featured a scary red sky, that made one think the whole place was on fire, perhaps the results of being bombed. I did not like the image at all, but it is used on everything! The coming soon post cards, the press passes, and there is probably many other places people can see it.
I am sure that Dr. Naftali really believes that President Nixon did every single bad thing that has ever been suggested. In his opening remarks for the new exhibit, I don’t think he missed using one accusatory buzz word; abuse of power, dirty tricks, whitewash, cover up, etc. Several of these same buzz words now scream at the visitors to the Library the President’s friends built. The letters are huge, the colors are bright. No one can miss seeing them.
I happened to be present when Dr. Naftali was asked point blank, if he really believed President Nixon was anti-Semitic. He didn’t give us a direct answer to the question, but later I told Ron that I could just picture all the researchers directed to search for ANYTHING that the President had ever said that could be considered in that light. Sure enough, a very few days later, several news stories contained newly released quotes on that very subject. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Let me take readers of my blog back to the days of daily Watergate revelations.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had a story every day in the Washington Post. We dreaded looking at the paper every morning, and yet we had to see what and who would be next. An amazing parallel form of harassment was happening at the Walker front door every day, too.
The morning edition of the Post was always sitting on top of a fresh pile of warm dog poop. Honest, I could not make up such a thing. Not only was the story icky, so was the actual paper. We really thought someone was harassing us. Ron took to laying in wait and watching. He had his trusty Red Ryder BB gun at the ready. One day, a little white dog, came jaunting up to OUR front door and left a fresh, warm pile on OUR welcome mat.
Ron let fly with a hail of BB’s that sent the pup yelping back the way he came and soon the paper boy let fly with the POST, and his aim was as spot-on as the little white dog. Mystery solved, but the whole scenario sure had added to our anxiety during this very stressful time. I did, however, feel relieved to learn that it was not a dirty-tricking human who was behind the whole thing.
Eight years later we read SILENT COUP by Len Colodony and Robert Gettlin. We desperately hoped that the premise was true. We were shocked to learn that a military spy ring, opposed to the President’s foreign policy goals had penetrated the White House and an attempt to cover up a call girl ring at the Democratic National Committee was the real reason behind the break-in. John Dean was described as a pathological liar who duped everyone. These are just a small sampling of the shocking revelations in the book, but they gave us hope. Alas, only staunch Nixon supporters embraced it. Most others didn’t want to see the super-scooping young reporters criticized.
The book was dismissed as not credible at all. John Mitchell said it best when he wrote to the authors in 1988, “It’s just the way you put it. It was his (Nixon’s) personality and his mode of operation that did him in.” Sad, huh? Now, all the visitors to the Richard Nixon Library will just have to make up their own minds about the “Watergate” aspect of the Nixon Presidency.
The Foundation fought to have the exhibit be fair and balanced, and be consistent with the approach taken on other controversial subjects at the other presidential libraries. It did not come out that way. As Bob Bostock, who authored the Library’s original Watergate exhibit and headed the review team of the new exhibit said, “It is as much designed to demonize Richard Nixon as the previous exhibit was designed to advocate for Richard Nixon. At least the old exhibit never claimed to be “objective,” as the curator of the new exhibit claims his exhibit is.”
I hope visitors will take to heart what President Clinton said at RN’s funeral and judge the 37th President on the whole of his remarkable life and career. And I am still holding on to the hope that another cover up will be revealed. Proof of the silent coup that Silent Coup uncovered.
Anne Walker is the wife of Nixon Foundation Chairman Ron Walker, and author of China Calls: Paving the Way for President Nixon’s Historic Journey to China.
Photo: NARA’s new Watergate exhibit opened March 31.