Nixon Lovers Tried to Get Yorba Linda Library Chief Fired Before Watergate Exhibit Went Up

Categories: OC Media, Politics
Scholars might point to the vast video collection of interviews with Richard Nixon White House officials as the crowning glory of Timothy Naftali's five-year reign as executive director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda.

For the rest of us, Naftali will be remembered for rehabilitating what had been a dreadful Watergate exhibit, succeeding so thoroughly that Nixon loyalists tried to get him canned before the display's March 31, 2011, opening.

That historical tidbit is contained in a piece Maarja Krusten, a former National Archives Nixon tapes specialist, recently contributed to History News Network.

Given Naftali's graceful exit from Yorba Linda, it's up to colleagues like Krusten to fill in the blanks about the pressures the noted George H.W. Bush historian faced trying to bring scholarly balance to the place--as well as just hipping it up in general.

Tim Naftali
If those sound like the kind of moves that would have Dick lovers seeing red, your hearing does not need to be checked.

The move to oust Naftali over the Watergate exhibit was not the only attempt to force him out, according to Krusten. She points to some Nixon White House officials reportedly having approached Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to place a hold on the 2009 Senate confirmation of David S. Ferriero as archivist of the United States pending the delivery of Naftali's head on a platter.

An effort was mounted "by officials below the agency head level at the National Archives" to get Naftali to resign in June 2010, before his long-to-complete exhibit went up, Krusten reports.

Before Ferriero reorganized the National Archives early in 2011, Naftali reported to Sharon Fawcett, the assistant director of Presidential Libraries and 40-year veteran of federal service. She received a lengthy list of objections to Naftali's Watergate exhibit from the private Nixon Foundation in August 2010, according to Krusten.

(Actually, Fawcett received gripes from the foundation about Naftali from after his appointment in 2007 through her retirement in 2011, the historian notes.)

Among the foundation's beefs about the Watergate exhibit: it included historically accurate references to Fred Malek's 1971 "Jew counting" at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at Nixon's behest.

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Matthew T. Coker
Matthew T. Coker

Thank you for sharing the full context here, Ms. Krusten.

M. Krusten
M. Krusten

Thanks for picking up my History News Network article.  Presidential libraries issues are far more complex than most historians realize.  Why?  Many competing objectives, some due to differing acculturation among the National Archives' stakeholders (former presidents, their associates, their families, historians, journalists, public interest groups, partisan advocacy groups).  Rarely if ever do historians think about those in terms of management and executive challenges. We Federal archivists knew when I worked on disclosure review of the Nixon tapes and WH files that some stakeholders would be unhappy no matter what we did.  That presidential records were considered personal property by custom (this was not codified in law) until Nixon resigned is a complicating factor, as well.  Nixon expected an enviro that shifted on him with the passage of the Nixon records statute in 1974.  Nixon's expectations regardless, my generation of federal archivists took the public trust and the statutory direction to reveal "the full truth" about the "governmental abuses of power" generally known as Watergate very seriously.  Yes, including I, who had worked on Nixon's campaign in 1968 while in high school and who voted for him in 1972.  I was one of two federal officials with delegated responsibility to approve what the government proposed to release or restrict of the information recorded on the Nixon tapes. We Feds who signed on for that archival mission were trailblazers on a trail on which no federal archivists previously had walked.  We knew, understood, and accepted that when we "took the point."  And we took a lot of incoming fire.  I for one wouldn't trade my experiences in Washington for anything.  Fascinating education on so many, many levels.  But nothing in grad school studying history in the 1970s prepared me for much of what I have experienced. Thanks again for reading my HNN essay.


Nixon still has fans?


I've got to say, the Nixon Library is MUCH better to visit today than it used to be. Well done Naftali.

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