When the Richard Nixon Presidential Library first opened 26 years ago, it was dismissed by many historians as more of a whitewash than a faithful retelling of his presidency.
For years, the museum’s Watergate exhibit, approved by Nixon himself, depicted the scandal as a “coup” orchestrated by Nixon enemies and unethical journalists. Historian and Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler once called the library just “another Southern California theme park” whose reality level was “slightly better than Disneyland.”
But in 2007, when the library finally entered the official presidential library system under the auspices of the National Archives, the exhibit was torn down and eventually replaced with a much more critical version. The museum’s heavily edited rendition of the “smoking gun” tape that implicated Nixon was replaced with the full recording, and the new exhibit placed the Watergate episode in the context of a larger campaign of presidential secrecy and sabotage.