The strength of the recently released HBO documentary Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words is made clear by the film’s title. Thanks to director Peter Kunhardt, and Ken Hughes, an academic researcher at the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, we don’t need to listen to anyone but the late, disgraced president himself tell or remind us what a truly horrible person he was.
The recordings Nixon made of himself in conversation with his shamefully sycophantic henchmen paint a word-portrait of a paranoid bigot with a taste for battle. Footage of warplanes dropping countless bombs on North Vietnam underscores this point.
Nixon’s political enemies were treated slightly better, having only to worry about the FBI upsetting their lives as punishment for daring to mess with the president.
Listening to Nixon’s own words, one might almost think he sought to use the presidency as a platform from which to prove Lord Acton’s point that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely.”
Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words is essentially a frightening piece of reality TV that was recorded in the most famous home and workplace of them all — with the chief villain manning the microphones.
The film made me appreciate even more one of my very favorite pieces of writing: the obituary Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone (and republished by The Atlantic) upon Nixon’s death in 1994.
I hereby suggest, dear reader, that you watch Kunhardt’s excellent documentary and then read Thompson’s magnificent essay, He Was a Crook. It is one of the most musical and damning pieces of prose you’ll have the privilege of reading in your lifetime.
— David Brensilver