Watergate’s Home Movies

Apr 30 2013 @ 6:14pm

Paul Myers spotlights Our Nixon, a documentary composed of Super 8 footage shot by H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin, three top Nixon aides who were convicted in the cover-up:

Super 8 was the iPhone camera of the day, so it’s not difficult to see these reels as sort of extended Vines from inside what was arguably the most secretive presidency ever. They also raise questions of privacy and presidential transparency that are as relevant in our post-Wikileaks times as they were in the Daniel Ellsberg era depicted here. “These guys were the original over-sharers,” says [filmmaker] Penny Lane, “And of course, there’s an irony to that, because that’s ultimately why they all had to resign and go to prison. But over-sharing is a completely natural impulse when you’re part of this really cool thing [the White House], so they wanted to document it and show people what it was like.”

That kind of over-sharing is definitely over:

After Nixon, Congress and the private lawyers of subsequent administrations debated the nature of public and private ownership of such materials. That climate has created an air of self-consciousness affecting everything from White House emails to Barack Obama’s personal Blackberry, taken from him on his first day as president.

“Prior to the Nixon Presidency,” says [co-filmmaker Brian L.] Frye, “the standard practice had been to assume that any papers or materials produced by the president or any member of the president’s staff in the White House were treated as the personal property of that president. That changed after Watergate. Now, as you can imagine, knowing that the materials will eventually go into the public record alters what they do and don’t record and or choose to preserve.”