Nixon library's changes start with Watergate





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....

In late March, however, workers roped off the Watergate gallery and methodically began to destroy it. Armed with hammers, a crowbar, a screw gun and a Sawzall, they yanked big display cabinets out of the floor, sliced through tough fiberboard panels, detached more than 100 fluorescent lighting tubes and removed the long strips of plexiglass that had sandwiched text transparencies....

"I can't run a shrine," says the man who ordered the demolition, Timothy Naftali, 45. Named last year as the library's first federal director, the Harvard-trained historian is guiding the library's shift from a privately run facility — the only modern presidential library not part of the federal system — to an institution that bears the National Archives' imprimatur....


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