Bob Dallek in the NYT gives a rave review of John Dean's history of Watergate cover-up

tags: Watergate, Nixon, John Dean



Editor's Note:  This excerpt is from Robert Dallek's review in the NYT of John Dean's new book, "The Nixon Defense."

Mr. Dean’s latest foray into the scandal is a day-by-day account of Nixon’s cover-up revealed in his secretly recorded White House conversations. Mr. Dean spent four years transcribing some four million words captured on approximately 1,000 hours of Watergate-related tapes: While 447 of these conversations had already been transcribed by other people, some less accurately than others, Mr. Dean added 634 more to the record, many of them never before listened to by anyone other than archivists charged with releasing them for public consumption. It was, Mr. Dean explains, an “extremely arduous and time-consuming” job to create accurate transcripts. Since the sound quality, especially on Executive Office Building tapes, is “consistently challenging, when not totally impossible, because of where people sat.”

Mr. Dean had several assistants help in the task of listening and relistening. The availability of more than 150,000 Watergate documents at the National Archives added to the challenge of building the fullest possible record of the scandal. As someone who wrestled with the Nixon-Kissinger documents relating to foreign affairs, I can only echo Mr. Dean’s assessment of the difficulties involved in studying Nixon’s White House records. (“The Nixon Tapes,” edited and annotated by Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter, coming this week from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, should further enrich the record.)

Mr. Dean’s 746-page book is not easy reading. Not only because returning to this crisis reminds us of how fragile our political system can be, but also because reading about Nixon’s obsession with the mounting inquiries moving ever closer to the truth about his offenses can be tedious and even depressing.

Yet Mr. Dean’s resolve to reconstruct this dismal tale of high crimes and misdemeanors is commendable: It is important to recall that Nixon would have been impeached and convicted had he not resigned and possibly gone to prison without Ford’s pardon. In addition to creating a definitive historical record of how the Watergate scandal unfolded, “The Nixon Defense” resolves some major unsettled questions....



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