Review of "Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words" on HBO From The TV MegaSite

The TV MegaSite, Inc.  TV Is Our Life!

Happy Veteran's Day from The TV MegaSite!

Click here to help fight hunger!
Fight hunger and malnutrition.
Donate to Action Against Hunger today!


MainNewsInterviews & ArticlesReviewsOur ShowsLinksCommunityStarsPolls
AutographsPhotosWallpapersPuzzles & GamesEpisode GuidesVideosOtherBuy!

Primetime TV Shows Reviews Pages

 TV Show Reviews


Review of "Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words" 9/1/18 by Anonymous
airs on HBO

NOTE: This is a documentary from 2014, but it's still showing on HBO and is very relevant to what's going on in the world today.

Richard Nixon’s crimes against the United States are nearly 50 years old now, and the number of people who remember experiencing Watergate in real time dwindles by the day. Indeed, for those who have no living memory of the scandal, the best-known facts (break-in, cover-up, resignation) must seem a bit quaint by contemporary standards, and the country’s reaction to those events during the 1970s may strike the rising generation as the same sort of inexplicable moral purge that ushered in prohibition earlier in the same century.

Fortunately, every time we are tempted to dismiss the furor over Watergate as the naive overreaction of a more sheltered era, Nixon himself returns to remind us that all of this was about so much more than a “third rate burglary.” In HBO’s 2014 documentary, “Nixon on Nixon,” the man himself rails, threatens, blusters, and otherwise bares his twisted, bigoted soul for the benefit of anyone who may have forgotten—or never really understood—what was at stake in the summer of 1974. Nixon’s own White House recordings (augmented here with old news footage) remain the strongest proof that our country once narrowly elected, and then re-elected overwhelmingly, a genuine monster, and after listening to him, raw and uncensored, for over an hour, nobody need wonder any further why his political banishment was treated by his countrymen as a successful exorcism.

Nixon, the documentary incessantly reminds us, was a complicated man. The recordings, however, do little to bear this out. Intelligent, yes. Paranoid, most definitely. But otherwise, he’s little more than an amoral jumble of ambitions and grievances who seeks constant reassurance of his greatness and lashes out at his perceived enemies far out of proportion to their transgressions. We all know people like this in our own lives, and it would never occur to us to refer to them as “complicated.”

What is a bit disconcerting, even to those of us who actually remember Nixon, is the man’s utter lack of comfort in his own skin. It is difficult to imagine someone so socially awkward even sniffing the presidency in the 21st Century. His gestures are discordant, he smiles at all the wrong times, and his body language is so defensive that you sometimes want to back away from your own television screen. It’s not just that you don’t believe him; it’s that he clearly doesn’t even believe himself. You may, in fact, find yourself pitying the guy, almost rooting for him as the underdog he always considered himself to be. Just before you get there, however, the documentary provides yet another recording where Nixon dishes out some Himmler-grade anti-Semitism or plots the destruction of yet another innocent political opponent and you remember again why the man was so awkward: he had just enough self-awareness to loathe himself, and in that he was not wrong.

As an antidote to pop culture’s tendency to smear Vaseline all over history’s lens, the HBO documentary is a triumph. As a persuasive vehicle for explaining Watergate to Millennials, on the other hand, it falls short. The plot twists that defined the scandal (the flipping of the Watergate burglars, the Saturday Night Massacre, the Smoking Gun tape) are given short shrift by the filmmakers, leaving the impression the scandal was simply an inexorable slog from break-in to resignation, and that Nixon’s goose was cooked the moment that Ben Bradlee paired Woodward with Bernstein. As those who were there will well remember, however, there were multiple moments not just when it seemed that Nixon might get away with it, but when it wasn’t necessarily clear that he was guilty of anything more than lax management of the stooges he employed. And even given the limited time available, no Nixon documentary seems complete without some mention of John Sirica or Margaret Mitchell or Peter Rodino (even Sam Ervin gets stiffed with a cameo role).

The documentary, which predates our current political circumstances, nevertheless invites us to compare Nixon’s scandals to those that currently consume the latest occupant of the Oval Office, another man seemingly overwhelmed by insecurity, prejudice, and rage (though nobody would ever describe him as “complicated”). But the comparison is a weak one. In Nixon’s case, Congress, the courts, and the news media followed the trail of evidence for nearly two years to determine, in the lasting words of Senate Watergate Committee Vice-Chairman Howard Baker, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Until the very end, nobody really knew the full extent of Nixon’s guilt.

In the case of Donald Trump, there is little need for a latter-day Woodward and Bernstein, nor would we be aided much by a trove of secret recordings, whether authorized by Trump himself or smuggled out by, say, Omarosa Manginault. Trump’s deeds and misdeeds are well known and hardly hidden. There is no mystery and even less drama. The issue is not what we don’t know, but rather how we feel about that which is plainly before our eyes. There is a reason that Watergate remains so fascinating 44 years after Nixon’s resignation; nobody will need to write a book like “All the President’s Men” about the Trump Administration.

Returning to the 1970s for a moment, it is sad to note that the younger viewer will probably not be shocked by the racism and bigotry that come so naturally to Richard Nixon and his aides. The language itself might now be taboo, but the sentiment has once again been loosed across the land and it is not hard to imagine similar conversations taking place in the West Wing as we speak.

A bit more jolting, perhaps, is Nixon’s unapologetic misogyny. That, unfortunately, is a reflection of its time, most notable in the fact that the only women who appear on these Nixon tapes are his wife and daughters. But anyone who wants to lay the sexism of the 1970s solely at Nixon’s feet should listen carefully to the laughter that erupts in the press room when someone raises the possibility of nominating a woman to the Supreme Court. Remember that the next time someone bemoans the damage inflicted by “political correctness.”

Viewed today, “Nixon on Nixon” is a reminder, perhaps, of the aphorism that history repeats itself as farce, but it is also a healthy corrective lesson for those who long for the days when we were supposedly ruled by men of substance who practiced bipartisanship first and put country over party. The man whose voice we hear on those tapes is considered by some to be one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th Century. He is also as mean and vicious a specimen ever to crawl out of the bowels of our politics. And there’s nothing quaint about that.


On Aug. 9, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon became the first American president to resign from office. From 1971 to 1973, he had secretly recorded his private conversations, purportedly “for the purpose of historical record,” but in the wake of the Watergate scandal the revelation of the tapes led to his downfall.

Fearing that the blunt and candid remarks on the tapes would sully the presidency forever, Nixon sought to prevent their public release for the rest of his life after leaving office. However, after his death in 1994, the government began releasing the 3,700 hours of recordings. The final tapes were made public on Aug. 20, 2013.

In 1982, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former chief domestic advisor, voiced concern about the Nixon tapes, noting, “The problem is that historians are going to grab an hour of tape…and if you listen to a snippet of tape, you’re going to form an impression of this man that’s going to be wrong. Sometime, hopefully, there will be a committee of historians who will listen to all the tapes and go into all the archives and then come out and say Richard Nixon was the strangest collection, the strangest paradoxical combination of any man I ever heard of. And they’ll be right.”

Only Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, Deputy Assistant Alexander Butterfield and Special Assistant Stephen Bull knew of the recordings. Those who did not know included John Ehrlichman, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Deputy National Security Advisor Alexander Haig, Attorney General John Mitchell and Secretary of State William Rogers, among others. “It was voice activated — everything was taped – which was probably stupid,” Nixon conceded in 1983.

The declassified tapes revealed the President’s opinions on a vast number of topics, including the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers leak, his Supreme Court appointments, and other matters of state. Nixon derided anti-war protesters in private conversations with Henry Kissinger, saying, “It really burns me up. We have no pride do we anymore, Henry?” He had equally harsh words for young Vietnam vet John Kerry, calling him “quite a phony.” Years later, Nixon insisted that despite the anti-war sentiment in Congress and the media, “That was not the voice of America. The voice of America was the silent majority.”

Nixon’s angry reaction to the New York Times’ publication of thousands of secret Pentagon documents detailing America’s involvement in Vietnam revealed his growing hatred of the press. “This is treasonable action on the part of the bastards that put it out,” he exclaimed to Henry Kissinger. Daniel Ellsberg of the Rand Corporation, who released the papers to the Times, became a target of his anti-Semitic outbursts. “The Jews are, are born spies,” he said, and asked Chief of Staff Haldeman to “look at any sensitive areas around where Jews are involved.”

With two vacancies open on the Supreme Court and pressure mounting to nominate a woman, Nixon told the press his list of candidates included Mildred Lillie and Sylvia Bacon. But behind closed doors, he told John Mitchell, “I would like to sorta get them off the woman kick if we can.” Years later, Nixon called the appointment of the Supreme Court justices “the most important achievement” domestically of his presidency. Internationally, Nixon described his historic trip to China in 1972 as a “watershed moment,” and cited his trip to Moscow to negotiate an arms control agreement, as another major foreign policy achievement.

“The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy,” Nixon can be heard telling Henry Kissinger. “You must keep up the attack on the media. You’ve got to keep destroying their credibility,” he told Special Counsel Charles Colson. Whether calling them “sons of bitches” or “bastards,” Nixon’s distaste of reporters was only thinly veiled in interviews, and entirely open behind closed doors.

After the Watergate break-in, Nixon discussed with Bob Haldeman bailing out the five men arrested saying, “Well, they took a hell of a risk. And they have to be paid.” Later, he told speechwriter Pat Buchanan, “The Watergate thing – well, that’s going to pass. That’ll be over. They’ll indict a few people, and then the goddam thing’s over.”

Despite Nixon’s reelection landslide victory and the achievement of what he called, “peace with honor” in Vietnam, Watergate did not pass. At the Senate Watergate hearing on July 16, 1973, former Deputy Assistant Alexander Butterfield revealed the secret electronic listening devices in the office of the president. Facing certain impeachment, Nixon subsequently resigned.

NIXON BY NIXON: IN HIS OWN WORDS draws on the work of Ken Hughes and his team at the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, as well as the work of Dr. Luke Nichter.

In addition to the Emmy®-winning “Teddy: In His Own Words,” Kunhardt McGee Productions’ previous HBO credits include the Emmy®-nominated “Gloria: In Her Own Words,” the Emmy®-nominated “In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01,” “Bobby Kennedy: In His Own Words” and the Emmy®-winning “JFK: In His Own Words.”

NIXON BY NIXON: IN HIS OWN WORDS is produced and directed by Peter Kunhardt; edited by Phillip Schopper. For Kunhardt McGee Productions: executive producers, Peter Kunhardt and Dyllan McGee; co-producers, George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

The opinions in these articles are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The TV MegaSite or its other volunteers.

Proofread and Edited by Brenda

We need more episode guide recap writers, article writers, MS FrontPage and Web Expression users, graphics designers, and more, so please email us if you can help out!  More volunteers always needed!  Thanks!

Back to the Main Reviews Page

Page updated 9/6/18

Back to the Main Primetime TV Page

ComedyDramaSci fi and FantasySoap OperasCompetition

Bookmark this section!
HomeDaytimePrimetimeTradingSite MapBuy!What's New!
Join UsAbout UsContactContestsBlogHelpCommunity