BGSU grad behind new release of Nixon tapes
Written by PETER KUEBECK Sentinel Staff Writer
Friday, 23 August 2013 10:30
The final batch of secret recordings of phone calls and meetings made by former president Richard Nixon were released publicly Wednesday, and among those waiting eagerly for them was Luke Nichter.
|File photo. President Richard M. Nixon points to the transcripts of the White House tapes after he announced during a nationally-televised speech that he would turn over the transcripts to House impeachment investigators, in Washington. (AP Photo/File)
"The big picture here is you really get the highs and the lows, the achievements and the burgeoning moments of despair in the Nixon presidency," said Nichter, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
Growing up in Perrysburg Township and Weston, Nichter received his PhD in Policy History from Bowling Green State University.
An author of several books, he additionally runs nixontapes.org, the only location online which catalogs the Nixon tapes - and which offers audio files and transcripts to the general public. Indeed, Nichter has spent large amounts of time and money digitizing the tapes, a project that even the National Archives has not undertaken.
The latest tapes cover April 9 through July 12, 1973 - up to the Watergate period of the Nixon administration; 140,000 pages of documents are also being released.
The taping all told throughout Nixon's administration amounts to 3,700 hours.
An additional 700 hours of further tapes have yet to be declassified.
"This is the last big release, there's never going to be another day where hundreds of hours are dropped on us at one time."
Nichter's interest in the topic stretches back to his graduate school days.
"I think all grad students look for that new angle, they look for that new topic. And for historians, it typically takes 30 or more years to get records out of the government. So what's 30 or 40 years old to the government is new to us."
"For me," he continued, "it was looking around, what are the unanswered questions, what are the things we could benefit from learning more about?"
He pointed to a unique moment in the newly-released tapes where Nixon spoke with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev on the eve of a week-long summit in Washington, D.C.
"You've got Nixon and Brezhnev, the Cold War archenemies at the height of the Cold War, the two people capable of destroying the world" speaking on the phone.
"You listen to it and these don't sound like enemies at all, they sound like old friends, they talk about family," and vacations.
"This is what sets this apart" from other presidential records. Nichter said he knows of no conversation like it dating back even to Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who also did taping during his administration.
"We just don't have this."
Now that the final batch of tapes has been released for the foreseeable future, what are Nichter's plans?
"It'll take years to digest these," he said.
"This is about 340 hours, they say, so if I were to start transcribing them, it takes about 8 hours to transcribe one hour of tape," putting him squarely into next year to complete the project.
Further, Nichter is currently working on a book with noted historian Doug Brinkley on the topic of the Nixon tapes.
"There's really no book written on the Nixon tapes," he said. The book's release is slated for Aug. 9 of 2014, the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation.
He said the book will be "an edited one-volume for a general audience of what's in the Nixon tapes" that will "take away the mystique and move away from the caricature of Nixon."