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Stanley Kutler attacked by historian Peter Klingman in frontpage NYT news story

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HNN EditorThis news story concerns an article submitted to the American Historical Review by independent historian Peter Klingman that claims historian Stanley Kutler misrepresented Watergate transcripts in such a way as to exonerate John Dean. The article remains under wraps while it is being considered for publication. But in the meantime a 2002 article by Klingman that lays out his case against John Dean (and Kutler) can be read online at the website of Mountain States University's Nixon Era Center. See:"What Did The President Know and When Did He Know It? Redefining Richard Nixon's Guilt and John Dean's Role in the Watergate Cover-up."

In his published article Klingman accuses Kutler, the author of Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, of"deliberately" withholding the transcript of the March 13, 1973 conversation between Nixon and Dean"to avoid providing a context, framework, and perspective that would contradict the original story Dean told the Senate Watergate Committee as well as his own views previously published in Wars on Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon." (The March 13 tape reveals that Dean told Nixon at that time of Gordon Strachan's advance knowledge of Watergate. If Strachan knew, Nixon had to assume that Bob Haldeman knew (Strachan reported directly to Haldeman). If Haldeman knew then Dean and Nixon could not claim, as they later did on March 21st, that no one in the White House was involved in the Watergate break-in. Both therefore had to be involved in the cover-up, claims Klingman, each for his own purposes.)

In the NYT article Kutler says that he has acknowledged making errors in transcribing certain tapes but denies his mistakes grew out of any attempt to exonerate Dean, with whom he eventually became friends.

Historian KC Johnson comments over at HNN blog Cliopatria:"I’m inclined to agree with the one clearly neutral source the [New York Times] article cites: my former Miller Center colleague Ken Hughes, who probably knows more about the Nixon tapes than anyone around. Ken told the Times that the attacks on Kutler were 'misguided,' adding, 'I was very critical of errors in the transcripts and I thought he had left out some important conversations, but they are entirely honest and predictable mistakes that anyone who would try to make a transcript from extremely difficult tapes could make.' ”

Klingman is an independent scholar who worked as an archivist for Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, the authors of the controversial book, Silent Coup: The Removal of a President , which claims Richard Nixon was a victim and not a prime mover in the Watergate affair. In 2001 Klingman transferred to the university an archive of the taped interviews Colodny had conducted. The archive forms the basis of the university's Nixon Era Center.

Excerpt from the NYT News Story

Scholarly feuds seldom end amicably, and nearly 35 years after President Richard M. Nixon resigned, a dispute involving his Watergate tapes would seem to be no exception.

A handful of historians and authors maintain that the most authoritative transcripts of those recordings include significant omissions and misrepresentations that could influence interpretations of the cover-up.

At the center of the quarrel is “Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes,” a 1997 collection of transcripts edited by Stanley I. Kutler, a pre-eminent historian of the Watergate era, that has become the standard reference. Mr. Kutler has been a hero to many people because of a lawsuit he brought with the nonprofit group Public Citizen that led to the release of 201 hours of recordings related to unethical or illegal activity in the Nixon White House.

But longtime critics of his transcripts say Mr. Kutler deliberately edited the tapes in ways that painted a more benign portrait of a central figure in the drama, the conspirator-turned-star-witness, John W. Dean III, the White House counsel who told Nixon that Watergate had become a “cancer” on his presidency....

Related Links

  • The Disputed Nixon-Dean Watergate Transcript: March 16, 1973

  • Maarja Krusten discussion

  • Jeremy Young discussion

  • Nixon Blog discussion

  • KC Johnson: Times on the Tapes
  • Read entire article at New York Times frontpage story