History For Hacks

by digby

From Mary at The Left Coaster I see that the Nixon Library is going to try to become something other than a carnival sideshow since the GOP congress decided to trust them with the Nixon papers. (Gee, I sure hope nothing important disappears or anything ... )

The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda has long been the most kicked-around of presidential libraries, and nothing invited more ridicule than the dim, narrow room purporting to describe the scandal that drove its namesake from office.

Venturing into that room, visitors learned that Watergate, which provoked a constitutional crisis and became an enduring byword for abuses of executive power, was really a "coup" engineered by Nixon enemies. The exhibit accused Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — without evidence — of "offering bribes" to further their famous coverage.

Most conspicuous was a heavily edited, innocent-seeming version of the "smoking gun" tape of June 23, 1972, the resignation-clinching piece of evidence in which Nixon and his top aide are heard conspiring to thwart the FBI probe of Watergate.

This was history as Nixon wanted it remembered, a monument to his decades-long campaign to refurbish his name. Nixon himself approved the exhibit before the library's 1990 opening.

"Everybody who visited it, who knew the first thing about history, thought it was a joke," one Nixon scholar, David Greenberg, said of the Watergate gallery. "You didn't know whether to laugh or cry."

I'm sure you must be wondering what kind of low-life historical hack would allow himself or herself to be associated with such an affront to truth and decency:

When the $21-million library opened with private funds in July 1990, amid trumpets and a crowd of 50,000 that included Nixon and three other presidents, one biographer called the occasion "a symbolic redemption" for the president who had resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Yet from the start, the library had trouble being taken seriously. Its first director, Hugh Hewitt, announced that researchers deemed unfriendly would be banned from the archives, singling out the Washington Post's Bob Woodward as a candidate for exclusion. Scholars cried foul; Hewitt revoked the plan.

What's more, the library possessed only Nixon's pre- and post-presidential papers. In 1974, Congress mandated that his White House materials be kept in the Washington area, amid fears that Watergate-related documents would be destroyed.

For years, the library enjoyed a reputation less as a sanctuary for scholars than as a roadside attraction, a place Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler derided as "another Southern California theme park," adding: "Its level of reality is only slightly better than Disneyland."

When scholar Greenberg visited the Yorba Linda library to research his book "Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image," he found the staff in the reading room professional and helpful. But when he ventured into the exhibits depicting Nixon's career, he found "an incredibly distorted, biased, pro-Nixon view of his presidency that distorted facts about Watergate."

Yep, that Hugh Hewitt.

Now he is a pampered right wing blogger, talk radio host, author and wingnut welfare recipient.