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Critic’s Ploy to Review ‘Nixon’ Is the Only Dirty Trick

Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson co-wrote "Nixon" with Oliver Stone

Howard Rosenberg has played a dirty trick on his readers by disguising a review of Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” as a commentary on the television coverage of the film (“Critics’ View of ‘Nixon’ a Dirty Trick on History,” Calendar, Dec. 22). His goal seems to be to smear the film with unsubstantiated criticisms, mostly borrowed from other media. We’d like to respond to at least some of these:

Rosenberg mentions “the possibility that portions are historical balderdash” without citing which portions. We assume that he is referring to the film’s position that Richard Nixon was involved in the creation of the Castro assassination plots. We can only suggest that Rosenberg watch less television and read more history.

According to the Senate Committee that investigated CIA assassination activities, the Castro plots began in early 1959 with authorization from the Eisenhower-Nixon White House. The first attempts on Castro’s life took place in 1960, while Nixon was vice president and a member of the Special Group that oversaw anti-Castro activities. Nixon’s knowledge of, and involvement in, these covert activities has been written about by respected historians such as Arthur Schlesinger and Michael Beschloss.

The idea that Nixon’s repeated references on the June 23, 1972, tape to “the Bay of Pigs thing” were in fact a code for the JFK assassination did not originate with us. It comes from Bob Haldeman, who worked with Nixon longest and knew Nixon best. He recorded this in his book, “The Ends of Power,” and his ghost writer, Joseph DiMona, has recently affirmed that this conclusion was Haldeman’s own.

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All of this is documented in our annotated version of the script.

Rosenberg refers to Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose’s statement that our footnotes sometimes “say the exact opposite” of what he wrote. The only instance that Ambrose has cited of this supposed reversal of meaning refers to Nixon’s drinking. We cite Ambrose on Nixon’s drinking because he wrote about it; we do not say that Ambrose believes Nixon had a drinking problem. In fact we portray Nixon as drinking heavily only in the final days of Watergate as chronicled by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

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Rosenberg criticizes us for not telling the audience “which characters or scenes have been hypothesized . . . or condensed.” In fact, we have done so in the published version of the script. How else would he suggest we do it? By flashing subtitles on the screen, or printing certain images in red?

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In this connection Rosenberg cites the Dean-Hunt confrontation on the bridge. This is legitimate dramatic license, telescoping, as it does, a whole series of meetings among intermediaries into a confrontation between the principals. What’s more, it was done with John Dean’s knowledge and permission, for, as Dean knows, the underlying facts are true: Hunt was blackmailing the White House and Dean was the point man for the cover-up.

Perhaps Rosenberg would have preferred a montage of six or seven scenes, which would have served neither drama nor clarity, and only have lengthened the film.

In general, the tone of Rosenberg’s article is disturbing, for he seems to suggest that no independent-minded artist has the right to treat a historical subject, no matter how scrupulously he documents his work. We categorically reject this view.

Ours is a dramatic portrait, not a documentary. No less knowledgeable an author than Bob Woodward has said that he learned something about Nixon from the film. Rosenberg’s lack of knowledge of recent history and his over-reliance on the opinions of others expressed in the media are no substitute for a personal encounter with the Nixon we portray.

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This we confidently leave to the American public.


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