The Nixon Library Controversy: The Fallout

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The NYT has published a long article about the Nixon Library controversy, saying that the cancellation of the Vietnam history conference has put in doubt plans to transfer Nixon's records to the Yorba Linda facility. The article followed by a day the filing of a protest petition by 16 of the historians who were scheduled to appear at the conference. They want Congress to suspend the scheduled transfer of the Nixon papers from the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) to the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda:

The unprofessional behavior of the Nixon Library leadership calls into question that institution's fitness to join the Presidential Library system. The Nixon Library evidently feels free to toss aside, at its own convenience, its commitments to Whittier College and to the conference participants. A similarly cavalier attitude toward the commitments that the Library has made to the National Archives and to the Congress, in order to gain public funding for the transfer, would seriously jeopardize public access to and long-term preservation of invaluable historical records.

The American Library Association has joined the scholars in protesting the planned transfer.

The new archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, has issued a brief statement indicating that if the Nixon Library is brought into the Presidential Library System"the Library will be operated in accordance with all National Archives statutes, regulations, and practices governing Nixon materials and presidential libraries."

John Taylor, Executive Director of the Nixon Library, scrambling to save the agreement to move the Nixon archives, issued a statement published on the Library's website to reassure scholars that

the Nixon Foundation is unwaveringly committed to free, full, total, and unmediated access to the public records of the Nixon Administration in a NARA library at Yorba Linda. When the records arrive here, they will be administered, conserved, and provided to scholars and researchers strictly by NARA officials and employees. NARA will also take over administration of our museum. The Nixon Foundation will become a public programming partner of NARA, just like Presidential foundations at other libraries.

He expressed regret over how the Vietnam conference had been handled:

We understand and sympathize with these scholars’ feelings about how the Nixon Library handled its participation in the Vietnam conference with Whittier College. The conference should have been conceived differently, with representation from a broad range of policy makers as well as scholars and journalists. Had we done that, the problem of little or no interest among the 10,000-plus persons who received invitations might well have been averted.
Doubts persist that the Library did all it could to promote the Vietnam conference, which was jointly sponsored by Whittier College, Nixon's alma mater. In the NYT story Whittier College historian Laura McEnaney observed that"Not a single academic historian had received the [Library] brochure [promoting the event] except the participants." Historian Stanley Kutler, who battled the Nixon family for access to the Watergate tapes, was to have been the keynote speaker at the conference. McEnaney indicated to the NYT that the Library had missed an opportunity:"Bringing Kutler to the library was going to be like Nixon going to China."

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More Comments:

Brian R Robertson - 3/17/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.

Michael Dean Almer - 3/14/2005

I didn't get one and I live just down the road.

Maarja Krusten - 3/13/2005

Dr. Kutler in his article on HNN this week referred to the work of the powerful lobbyists employed by the Nixon representatives. There is, of course, a public relations aspect to these issues - if you doubt that, just check out the comments by John Taylor that have been published in newspapers over the years. Then look for published comments offering viewpoints different from his. There aren't many, and the voices tend to be the same (Dr. Kutler, me, Anna Nelson). The silence of many of the National Archives' potential clients -- historians -- demonstrated, once again, this week here on HNN's comment boards, which may or may not be read by Mr. Taylor -- makes it all the easier for those few who speak up to be dismissed as outliers. It will be interesting to see what labels are applied to the 16 people who signed the petition.

Robert KC Johnson - 3/11/2005

I'd be curious to know just who "the 10,000-plus persons who received invitations" to this affair were. One would assume, for example, that all members of SHAFR would have received invites, but that, of course, was not the case.