At Nixon library, tension over how to portray a disgraced president

Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:29am EDT
 
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By Tim Reid

YORBA LINDA, California (Reuters) - Nearly 40 years after President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal, the debate over how his legacy should be defined seems as vibrant as ever - at Nixon's presidential library, at least.

The Nixon library, which opened in 1990 in Yorba Linda, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has become the focus of a behind-the-scenes tussle over how the story of the only person to resign from the U.S. presidency should be told.

It pits Nixon loyalists who want the library to do more to portray the 37th president as a great leader with a range of domestic and foreign accomplishments, against historians and others who say that the library - as a symbol of U.S. history and education - has a duty to also provide an unvarnished, and unflattering, lesson on Nixon's downfall.

A key issue is whether the Nixon Foundation, which is run by former aides to the president and Nixon family members and is raising $25 million to renovate the library, is trying to delay the appointment of a new library director by the National Archives so the renovation can be done without interference from those not loyal to Nixon.

The Nixon library has been without a director for more than two years. The last director, Timothy Naftali, resigned shortly after installing a Watergate exhibit that detailed Nixon's role in trying to cover up his administration's involvement in the burglary of Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex in Washington.

Members of the Nixon Foundation vehemently objected to the exhibit, and several boycotted its opening in 2011. The other exhibits at the library are reverential toward Nixon.

The foundation, which is run by a board of directors led by former Nixon aide Ron Walker, rejects the notion that it has tried to stall the appointment of a new library director.

Some Nixon historians aren't convinced. They include Stanley Kutler, who successfully sued the National Archives to force the release of White House audio tapes of Nixon and his aides discussing Watergate. Kutler calls the situation at the Nixon library "troubling."   Continued...

 
A wreath is laid on honor of Former President Richard Nixon during the 40th anniversary of the homecoming of Vietnam POWs at Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni