Monday, February 2, 2009

Nixon tapes: "Has the New York Times lost it completely?"

I'm not exactly a dedicated follower of the Nixon tape recordings saga, so I'm not always attuned to its nuances or able to differentiate between significant new developments and scholarly kerfluffles that pop up on slow news days.

According to Stan Katz, who is a member of the writing team that posts on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm blog, the story that appeared on the front page of yesterday's New York Times definitely falls into the latter category. In one of today's posts, Katz immediately makes plain his opinion of the article: "Has The New York Times lost it completely?" He then goes on to assert that the submission of an as-yet unpublished article to the American Historical Review is hardly newsworthy.

He's probably right about that. However, it's also apparent that he's not exactly a neutral observer:
So far as I can tell [from reading the article], someone named Peter Klingman (identified only as "an historian" -- but not an historian I have ever heard of before) has submitted an article to the American Historical Review alleging that (my friend) Stanley Kutler deliberately manipulated his published transcriptions of the Nixon tapes (in his 1997 Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes) so as to exonerate John Dean from complicity in the Watergate cover-up.

. . . . Kutler’s book was only an attempt to make some of the material quickly available in print for the use of the public. Despite Joan Hoff’s quoted statement that Abuse of Power is “used authoritatively,” Kutler has never claimed to have published the full and official record, and any trained historian would know that his book is not authoritative in that sense. His subject was Nixon’s complicity, not Dean’s, and there is no evidence that he consciously manipulated his transcriptions.
Katz may well be right about Kutler's intentions. However, as one of the people who commented on this post asserted, John Dean's subsequent career as a lecturer and television commentator roundly critical of the present-day Republican Party does make the level of his involvement in Watergate an ongoing matter of public interest.

Frankly, I'm not sure whether Stanley Kutler or Peter Klingman is closer to the truth, and for the time being, I'm going to assume that they are both people of integrity. I haven't had the chance to listen to the audio recordings posted on the Times site and compare them to the transcripts in Kutler's book, and I suspect that the debate will continue to rage on even after the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) releases the March 1973 tapes that are at the center of this controversy.

I'm going to keep an eye on this upheaval, but I probably won't comment further unless a) something incredibly important happens or b) subsequent developments highlight its archival ramifications.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just listen to the tapes and compare them to the book and you'll see immediately what the issue is. It doesn't matter who contacted the Times. It doesn't matter who Peter Klingman is, as if he has anything to prove to Dr. Katz. Anyone who listens to the tape will conclude the changes were made intentionally. Also, note that The Tampa Tribune wrote about much of this in 1998. So Kutler had plenty of notice that there were questions about his work.