“Our Nixon” is a film, proclaimed to be a documentary, using “home movies” that were taken by Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and myself over the course of our years working for President Nixon. The talented and ambitious film maker, Penny Lane, stated that her intent was to let our never before seen Super 8 movies tell a story about the young, enthusiastic, and ambitious staff who were privileged to have such an up close and personal access to an amazing time in American history, and who were unknowing of the fate that would change all of their lives.
While the film’s expressed desire is to highlight the stories of the three Nixon staffers by use of our movies, the film, in my opinion, barely explores our years together, and doesn’t even come close to portraying or presenting “our” Nixon. It seems to me (of course I cannot speak for my deceased colleagues and friends) that this film is more about using our personal videos as a cloaked angle for a particular —and predictable— pre-existing view of President Nixon.
They’re my movies, but it’s not my view.
Before viewing “Our Nixon”, here are some examples of its “documentary” integrity:
The film begins with a sinister assertion that the home movies were “confiscated” by the FBI. This claim has been prominent in CNN’s advertising. It’s undeniably dramatic, but it simply isn’t true. The original 8mm film was developed (right after it was shot) by the Navy Film Lab and kept in their Archives. That was the arrangement made up front by Bob Haldeman, and that is what we did. The FBI only had to go to the US Navy Archives for complete access to everything we shot.
One important moment in the film is when it presents a White House tape recording of President Nixon’s phone call to Bob Haldeman after the famous Silent Majority speech of 3 November 1969. This is obviously done for the dramatic effect it achieves. Unfortunately it isn’t true — or even possibly true. There was no taping system in the White House in November 1969 — and there wouldn’t be one until President Nixon ordered the reinstallation of the JFK and LBJ systems (with, among others, the major difference that RN’s would be voice activated). The tape used in “Our Nixon” is from a much later time and a much different context. It is misleading as well as inaccurate to suggest it is something it isn’t.
During a panel discussion in which I participated at the National Archives following the film’s premiere in Washington DC, Ms. Lane admitted that she had to tweak some timelines and scenarios —that are offered as factual— in order to tell the story. The result is often humorous, and sometimes touching, but it is inaccurate and distorted. Our Super-8s offer an unusual, indeed a unique, view behind the scenes of an important Presidency. It’s sad that, having spent so much time and effort raising the money and writing and editing the film, the result is so unimaginative and unoriginal.
I take great pride in the memories that were made between 1969 and 1973. It saddens me that my documentation of these amazing times with my Super 8 camera has been edited to create a film (purported to be factual) that diminishes the man I gladly and proudly served. I look forward to a documentary that accurately reflects the times, the individuals, and the honor and good fortune that we in the Nixon Administration had to serve our Nixon and our Nation.
UPDATE: In The Daily Beast, former Nixon speech writer Ben Stein says that the film “revealed nothing meaningful and new about the Nixon administration.”
“Our Nixon started out as history, but in its extremely unbalanced negative portrait of a man who did the ultimate that any human can do—make peace among men,” he adds.