A recent New York Times piece on the disagreement between the National Archives and the Nixon Foundation over the portrayal of the Watergate scandal at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA, shows how that library, and the Nixon legacy, remains a contentious issue after all these years.
The latest conflict stems from a new Watergate exhibit that the National Archives has planned for the museum. The Nixon Foundation drafted a 132-page letter detailing their objections to the exhibit, which they feel is unfair to the late President. Though the foundation does not have veto power, it has asked that its concerns be addressed before Archives officials go forward with the exhibit.
Private vs. public
There are currently 13 presidential libraries administered by Office of Presidential Libraries (part of the National Archives), created as repositories for presidential papers, records, photographs, and other materials. The first, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, opened in 1940; the latest, the George W. Bush Presidential Center in University Park, TX, is under construction, and is set to open in 2013.
The libraries are built by private foundations, after which they are administered by the National Archives. At most libraries, there is no public conflict between the two. The Nixon Library is a different story.
The Nixon Library, which opened in 1990, was originally operated by the private Nixon Foundation without National Archives involvement. But, at that time, the National Archives had possession of some 46 million pages of Nixon-era presidential materials, due to the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA), passed by Congress in the wake of Watergate, which stipulated that the materials remain in a facility near Washington. The consequences of this act, which kept those materials from being transferred to the private Nixon Library, led to many years of litigation.
After much negotiation (and an amendment to PRMPA passed by Congress in 2004), it was finally agreed that the National Archives would take over control of the Nixon Library facility in 2007, and the presidential materials were transferred there this year. Many documents, photos, and recordings have been released to the public, with many more to come.
But, as the latest skirmish shows, the battle over the library—and over Watergate—rages on.