Bookmark
“Let’s look at the record”

The old saying, “An error gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on,” is especially relevant in the age of the internet and social media.

Richard Nixon is often the subject of such errors – some deliberate, some inadvertent, but all in need of correction to advance historical accuracy and understanding.

When confronted with such errors himself, Mr. Nixon himself would often begin his reply by saying, “Let’s look at the record,” and that’s what this page is all about.

When we find any RN-related errors that appear in print, over the air, or in cyberspace, we will “look at the record” and set the record straight.

We invite you, if you find something that needs correcting, to let us know so we can include it on this page.


June 21, 2017

In an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, Pulitzer-winning biographer Kai Bird uncritically accepts John A. Farrell’s interpretation of handwritten notes by H. R. Haldeman of a conversation with presidential candidate Richard Nixon on the night of October 22nd 1968.

Mr. Bird writes:

Democrats in particular have painful memories of the 1968 “October surprise,” in which Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon passed messages to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, telling him to stall on the peace talks. Nixon always denied the allegation. But we now know from the private diary of H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, recently discovered by the presidential historian John Farrell, that Nixon was lying.

THE RECORD:

Mr. Farrell, strictly speaking, is not a presidential historian; he is a former journalist whose books before Richard Nixon: The Life were a biography of House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and of attorney Clarence Darrow. The Haldeman notes were not from a private diary (he did, in fact, keep a private diary) but typical of the notes Mr. Haldeman made on yellow pads of meetings he had with Nixon — both as candidate and as president.

In his op-ed, Mr. Bird provides a link to a New York Times article by Peter Baker about Mr. Farrell’s interpretation of the Haldeman notes. In that article Mr. Baker made the point that some historians agree with Mr. Farrell’s interpretation, but others don’t. He wrote:

Still, as tantalizing as they are, the notes do not reveal what, if anything, Mr. Haldeman actually did with the instruction, and it is unclear that the South Vietnamese needed to be told to resist joining peace talks that they considered disadvantageous already.

Moreover, it cannot be said definitively whether a peace deal could have been reached without Nixon’s intervention or that it would have helped Mr. Humphrey. William P. Bundy, a foreign affairs adviser to Johnson and John F. Kennedy who was highly critical of Nixon, nonetheless concluded that prospects for the peace deal were slim anyway, so “probably no great chance was lost.”

Luke A. Nichter, a scholar at Texas A&M University and one of the foremost students of the Nixon White House secret tape recordings, said he liked more of Mr. Farrell’s book than not, but disagreed with the conclusions about Mr. Haldeman’s notes. In his view, they do not prove anything new and are too thin to draw larger conclusions.

The Nixon Foundation has posted a different interpretation of the Haldeman notes that takes into account their textual context and the specific circumstances in which the phone call took place. The Foundation’s post is here: “Misunderstanding a Monkey Wrench.”

Of course, Mr. Bird, like Mr. Farrell, is entitled to his interpretation of the Haldeman notes. But it is disappointing that a writer and biographer of Mr. Bird’s rigor and stature did not inform his readers that there is disagreement among historians about the significance of Mr. Farrell’s discovery, and what it actually means; and that there is an at least equally plausible interpretation.


 

“We were furious about the past presidential election of a man [Nixon] whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice…”

Hillary Clinton, Wellesley College Commencement, May, 26, 2017


THE RECORD:

President Nixon was not impeached. Only two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998.


 

“More young men were killed in Vietnam post-Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969 than had died in the war prior to 1969. It’s very troubling.”

Mike Barnicle, Morning Joe, MSNBC, March 28, 2017


THE RECORD:

American lives lost during the Vietnam War are as follows:

1956 to 1968:   36,956

1969 to 1973:   21,195

In fact, more Americans died in Vietnam during just the last two years of the Johnson administration than during the entire 5 ½ years of the Nixon administration.

[SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html]  


March 23, 2016

Setting the Record Straight on President Nixon’s Drug Policy

The comments being attributed to John Ehrlichman in recent news coverage about the Nixon administration’s efforts to combat the drug crisis of the 1960’s and 70’s reflect neither our memory of John nor the administration’s approach to that problem. We are not aware of any statements or writings by John, other than those being attributed to him now more than two decades after they were allegedly made (and seventeen years following his passing), that suggest he believed there were ulterior motives for the administration’s efforts to deal with the heroin epidemic. He was, however, known for using biting sarcasm to dismiss those with whom he disagreed, and it is possible the reporter misread his tone. Some of us worked with John and knew him well. John never uttered a word or sentiment that suggested he or the President were “anti-black.”

Most importantly, the statements do not reflect the facts and history of President Nixon’s approach to the drug problems. As reflected in the narratives written by several reputable historians, President Nixon initiated a very comprehensive approach. Immediately after Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act reducing the severity of penalties for cannabis and reorganizing the agencies responsible for enforcing drug laws, John Ehrlichman gave White House staffer Jeff Donfeld a mandate to design programs that would coordinate and centralize non-law enforcement federal programs in the fields of drug abuse education and treatment, including the creation of multi-modality treatment programs that offered therapeutic communities and methadone maintenance for heroin addicts, and programs that would divert addicts out of the criminal justice system into treatment programs.

The result was President Nixon’s creation in June 1971 of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention to coordinate a major effort to increase the availability of treatment and Federal investment in treatment, prevention, and research. The 1971 to 1974 Federal budgets for these efforts were two-to three-fold higher than the budgets for all of Federal law enforcement.

Treatment in communities throughout the country (including methadone maintenance treatment which has been adopted by more than 35 countries throughout the world); treatment in virtually every Veterans Administration Hospital; a well funded National Institute on Drug Abuse; and programs that attempt to divert arrestees into treatment are among the direct results of the efforts of the Nixon administration. These are the achievements that are more properly seen as its legacy.

Jeffrey Donfeld, White House Domestic Council Staff Assistant to the President 1969-1971; Assistant Director, White House Special Action Office for Drug abuse Prevention, 1971-1973

Jerome H. Jaffe, M.D., Director, White House Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention and Special Consultant to the President for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, 1971-1973

Robert DuPont, M.D, Administrator, District of Columbia Narcotics Treatment Administration, 1970-1973; Director of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention 1973 to 1975 and First Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1973 to 1978.