Jon Wiener: At the New Watergate Gallery, the Truth Finally Wins Out

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor to the Nation.]

Watergate was "the ultimate stress test" for the nation, says Timothy Naftali, director of the Nixon Library. It was also a stress test for the National Archives and the Nixon Library.

The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum's original exhibit about Watergate, designed in 1990 by Nixon loyalists before the National Archives took over operation of the library, explained Watergate as a third-rate burglary exploited by the president's enemies to reverse the results of the 1972 election. Now, with the long-awaited opening of the library's new Watergate exhibit, the public finally has a museum that tells the full story of what President Ford called "our long national nightmare"— and tells it with authority and rich detail, mobilizing up-to-the-minute interactive technology that might even engage middle school students brought here on tours.

That story is still devastating. The exhibit makes clear how, with the country in turmoil over an unpopular war, the president became obsessed with "enemies" and formed a secret unit, "the plumbers," to carry out illegal assignments. When its members got arrested breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee, the president discussed paying them hush money, talked about how to pardon them before they could tell their story, and then ordered the CIA to tell the FBI to stop its investigation of presidential wrongdoing....

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