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Nixon Tapes To Be Distributed

January 21, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ For years, Americans have read transcripts of President Nixon’s secretly recorded tapes. Now, they will be hearing hear his baritone voice on the airwaves.

Students will listen to him in class. Historians, Nixon buffs and writers across the nation will play and replay his voice at home, or maybe in the car.

The National Archives today was beginning to distribute cassettes of some of the president’s tapes _ at $18 a pop.

Until now, the public only could listen to them if they went to the archives in College Park, Md. Copying was prohibited. So, besides a few bootleg tapes illegally broadcast years ago and snippets of recordings played in court and at Nixon’s California library, the tapes have not been aired publicly.

``We’ve heard Johnson’s voice on tape, Kennedy’s voice, but the most famous tapes _ the Nixon tapes _ the public really has never had the opportunity to hear his voice on tape,″ said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the archives.

Listeners will hear coffee cups clinking on saucers, the pounding of desks and clearing of throats. They will hear the famous ``smoking gun″ conversation about Watergate that led to Nixon’s resignation. They will listen to the infamous tape erasure _ a full 18 1/2 minutes of buzzes and clicks. They will hear the chat between Nixon and former White House counsel John Dean, who tells the president: ``We have a cancer _ within _ close to the presidency that’s growing.″

``I certainly think the American public has a right to hear this material. Those tapes are what resulted in Richard Nixon resigning from office. And while they know the content, they really sound much different than they read,″ said Dean, now an investment banker in Beverly Hills, Calif.

``Nixon kinda growls,″ he said.

Nixon secretly recorded 3,700 hours of tape. So far, 264 hours of Watergate and ``abuse of government power″ tapes can be purchased. These contain conversations about the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate in 1972, subsequent cover-up and wrongdoing by the White House.

The Nixon estate believes the tapes should be heard in context _ in chronological order.

Ultimately, there should be less focus on Watergate and more on the Democratic Congress’ decisions during the communist takeover of South Vietnam, said John Taylor, director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, Calif.

``That is the real scandal of the Vietnam and Watergate era,″ he said. ``When the (baby) boomers move on and stop celebrating their great antiwar achievements, history will look anew at the era and it won’t matter what order the materials were released.″

The archives began taking tape orders late last year. Today, it was distributing the first batch _ 12 1/2 hours of tapes played during Watergate trials in the mid-1970s. The entire set of trial tapes costs $702.

The tapes cost $18 for each 30-minute recording. Prices are set to cover the cost of copying and packaging tapes. The archives will not profit from the sale.

So far, about 50 orders have been placed by the news media, historians, universities and individuals.

Christopher Beam, director of the Edmund S. Muskie Archives at Bates College in Maine, plans to put them in the college library and play them students he teaches at the University of Southern Maine.

ABC News bought a complete set and planned to begin airing them Friday on ``Nightline,″ said producer Jon Ebinger.

C-SPAN, which in February 1998 began airing President Johnson’s White House tapes on the radio and its Web site, is waiting to assess the quality of the Nixon tapes before deciding how to use them, said history producer Maura Pierce.

Researchers, earphones clamped to their heads, have spent years listening to the tapes, trying to decipher every last word. One historian, who is directing a project to transcribe all known presidential recordings, thinks that with more ears listening, the tapes will yield new information about Nixon’s presidency.

``People shouldn’t treat these tapes as if they’re old news,″ said Timothy Naftali, who is working on the project at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research institute at the University of Virginia. ``When people start to pour that kind of energy into these tapes, imagine what new puzzles will be found, or unlocked or solved. In that sense, the story is not over.″

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