Nixon: odd, but brilliant
The documentary offers details about Nixon's installation of a secret taping system in the Oval Office.
By KATHY BLUMENSTOCK
Richard Nixon's personality, as revealed through a series of audio tapes, was as complex and secretive as his political agenda.
Filmmaker David Taylor, preparing his new History Channel documentary "Nixon: A Presidency Revealed" (premieres 8 p.m. Thursday), donned headphones to hear "hours and hours" of the recently released tapes, dating back to 1971, from the Oval Office and Camp David.
"It allowed me to literally listen to Nixon in his own words," Taylor said. "He was a different person depending on who he was talking to."
Taylor, who also profiled JFK, FDR and LBJ for the History Channel's occasional presidential portraits, described the 37th president as a man beset by meanness and vindictiveness.
"He didn't respond to praise. Out of 100 phone messages, he would want to know about the three that were negative -- and, then, to get even," Taylor said.
The coarse language on Nixon's tapes may surprise even those familiar with the Watergate saga.
"I listened to hundreds of hours of LBJ and you'd come across the occasional swear word," Taylor said. "With Nixon, it was endless."
Using archival film and audio recordings, plus interviews with Nixon observers and staffers, the program chronicles Nixon's political dealings and personal insecurities dating back to his days in California politics and through his 1974 departure in disgrace from the White House, as well as his later role as an adviser to presidents. It goes into detail about such things as his installation of a secret taping system in the Oval Office and his penchant for going for days without sleep.
The two-hour film also includes reminders of Nixon's brighter moments: the wedding of his daughter Tricia, his historic trips to China and Russia and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
While Nixon's presidency was scarred by the Watergate scandal, "he also did some very progressive things in foreign policy and even domestically in civil rights, which people don't remember," said Susan Werbe, History Channel's executive producer.
Werbe said the presidential documentary series offers those who were close to the subjects a chance to freely discuss details and past events. "What sets this show and series apart is that it is the intertwining of the personal and the political," she said.
Werbe and Taylor said they were surprised at the depths of Nixon's isolation, even from his own staff and family.
"Night after night, he would have dinner alone in the executive office building, not interacting with people, rarely even with his own family. He was a man who craved privacy and wanted secrecy," Taylor said. "Even Al Haig talked about shyness being his Achilles' heel."