It has been a week since the New York Times published Patricia Cohen’s article about an article which historian Peter D. Klingman submitted to the American Historical Review arguing that University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley I. Kutler’s book of Watergate tape transcripts, Abuse Of Power, was not only filled with errors, but included several passages in which portions of different conversations, taking place at different times in a single day, where presented as if they were a single conversation. And it has been a day or so since the Review declined to publish Klingman’s article on the somewhat diplomatic grounds that it was too short and that its focus was too limited for a journal of the Review’s nature.
However, the controversy which the Times article stirred on several history-themed websites and a number of blogs continues apace. The Baltimore Sun, for example, has never been noted for its fervent defense of President Nixon’s reputation, but at the paper’s website today Jay Hancock delivers an incisive critique of John Dean’s furious attack on his and Professor Kutler’s critics in The Daily Beast. Among Hancock’s observations:
Here’s what I found to be the rant’s biggest howler:
“Most journalists would consider an unpublished submission even less credible than a complaint filed in a lawsuit (since lawyers can be disbarred for false and frivolous complaints), and scrupulous journalists only report on legal complaints after they have been litigated and tested.”
I guess that’s why Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whom Dean seems to revere, waited until Nixon had been arrested, charged and tried by a jury of his peers before they wrote their Watergate stories. No journalist waits, or should wait, before reporting an important lawsuit or compelling evidence of wrongdoing. Or an interesting paper submitted to U.S. history’s most important journal.
In the comments section of Hancock’s post Aaron Goldstein remarks:
John Dean says a lot of nutty things. During an appearance in Boston back in September 2007 while promoting his last book he said that President Bush would try to find a way to stay in office after January 20, 2009.
One of the less well-thought-out (and less well-researched) commentaries on the Abuse Of Power rhubarb came from Jeffrey Toobin, longtime legal correspondent for The NewYorker and frequent CNN commentator. In an item at his magazine’s site called “Bad Buff, Good Buff,” Toobin mused that he was not bothered by the “lack of formal credentials” which he says is often the case with “buffs” who “immerse themselves in public controversies and develop expertise independent of journalistic or academic institutions.”
Ah, here’s some news for Mr. Toobin: Peter D. Klingman is not lacking in credentials; he has a Ph.D in his subject and his thesis was not only published by the University Presses of Florida, but has been cited by historians as eminent as John Hope Franklin, William E. Leuchtenberg, and even that doyen of leftist historical studies Eric Foner. And, indeed, he continued to publish in scholarly journals in the last 30 years. Given this record, it seems almost churlish to note that while Mr. Toobin’s legal career focused on criminal cases and, as far as I know, had nothing to do with the ins and outs of electoral law and the constitutional questions associated with it, that did not prevent him from writing a book about the developments between Election Day 2000 and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.
Finally I should mention that Frederick Graboske, the National Archives expert on the Nixon recordings whose criticisms of Professor Kutler’s approach to transcription were the meatiest quotes in the first Times article, has two comments appended to the defense of the professor by Princeton University’s Stan Katz at the Chronicle Of Higher Education’s site. In the first, he further develops the argument he made to the Times’s reporter; in the second, he offers to debate Professor Katz regarding the Abuse Of Power issue in the latter’s classroom. Now if that were to come about, it would be higher education at its finest.
(I should also point out that frequent TNN commenter Maarja Krusten contributes illuminating observations in the comments sections of several of the sites and blogs discussing this controversy.)