Setting the Record Straight at the Nixon Library

Setting the Record Straight at the Nixon Library

Hopefully, this item on the looming depature of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation's longtime executive director, John H. Taylor, makes it clear that he fronted a separate entity from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. I say hopefully because that distinction was not clear in an earlier post that called the foundation the "funding arm" of the Nixon Library. That mistake brought my boss a polite-but-swift letter from Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum director Tim Naftali and a polite follow-up chat on the phone with yours truly.

"As a regular reader of the OC Weekly, particularly its Web site, I thought I'd write and highlight a distinction between the Nixon Presidential Library and the Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation that Matt Coker may have missed in his recent writings," begins Naftali's letter.
Despite my earlier tortured prose, the only group that can be considered the "funding arm" of the Nixon Library these days is the American public, since the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum is part of the National Archives and Records Administration, a federal agency that is funded by Congress. "We take that responsibility seriously," Naftali says, "which is why we recognize that it is emphatically not the library's job to persuade people to like (or dislike) President Nixon; instead, we are working to kindle an interest in history and give people the tools with which they can understand the past."

The foundation, which had run the library since its 1990 inception as a private facility, does still contribute money to library projects, Naftali concedes, "but they have no creative input or editorial control." Since its "creation" in July 2007, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has accelerated the release of hundreds of hours of Nixon tapes, opened thousands of pages of documents to the public and begun renovations that he vows will make the place more attractive to a "younger and more tech-saavy generation."

He considers that part of his job to preserve the record of the Nixon administration and make it available to the public. He's also hosted public programs presenting folks you never would have expected to get invites from the old regime, like Bob Scheer and Carl Bernstein, to give differing points of view to the Nixon era. Most importantly in that regard is Naftali's gutting the old Watergate exhibit in favor of one that will be educational, 21st century and nonpartisan.

By contrast, the foundation is a wholly separate organization that "does not dictate or influence how the National Archives runs the Library's archival or curatorial functions," states Naftali. In other words -- my words -- the foundation does host Web sites and blogs and events that extoll the virtues of Dick, but in its 2006 deal to bring all the Nixon records to Yorba Linda and make the library like every other presidential library, the foundation ceded most of the facility to the National Archives. "Consequently" -- these are Naftali's words now -- "the foundation may hold events with speakers such as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly in the building, even though these events are entirely private in character and the National Archives takes no responsibility for them. (We also don't endorse the weddings that the foundation hosts in the garden, although we wish the happy couples well.)"

As for concerns that another disgraced president, George W. Bush, may have mucked things up with his executive order to keep records sealed until a former president, his associates and even his estate sees fit to release them, Naftali assured to me on the horn that Nixon's records are the subject of separate, Watergate-era federal laws that forever guarantee unfettered public access.

Besides, President Obama reversed the Bush order.


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