Timothy Naftali: Making sure the Nixon library is non-partisan

Historians in the News

... "This was a private library that saw itself as a Republican institution, and its programming reflected that. This will change," says Timothy Naftali, 45, the University of Virginia historian who will become federal director of the [Nixon] library this summer or fall, when the National Archives is to accept the institution into the presidential libraries system under a 2004 law.

When the archives and the Nixon foundation asked Naftali to apply for the library post, he insisted on a shift to non-partisanship. "I can't run a shrine," Naftali says he told them. "I'm a historian."

Naftali, author of books on the Cold War and counterterrorism, was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen in 2005. He was 14 when Nixon left office, and never met him. He's a registered independent.

The official transfer of the library, sought for years by Julie Eisenhower, was supposed to happen last year. It is being delayed by problems installing a climate-control system that meets the archives' standards.

Naftali says his goal is "setting a new tone."

A one-sided exhibit on the Watergate scandal is gone. The exhibit had featured a voice-over attempting to explain the "smoking gun" tape, on which Nixon is suggesting that the CIA could block the FBI investigation of the 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate. New video screens will present "a 360-degree view," Naftali says, by showing interviews with surviving Nixon administration officials and a Democrat on the House committee that voted for Nixon's impeachment.

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