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IwasA transcriptionist for secretly recorded Nixon White House tapes AMA!

May 13th 2017 by defkatatak • 8 Questions • 167 Points

When I was a student at the University of Virginia, I interned for the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program through which I transcribed hundreds of hours of secretly recorded White House tapes. Presidents from the Eisenhower Administration to the Nixon Administration secretly recorded their conversations in the Oval Office, Executive Office Building, and Camp David. I mostly transcribed President Nixon's tapes, but I also transcribed a few of Pres. Kennedy's and Pres. LBJ's tapes.

I mentioned this in a /r/todayilearned thread about Pres. Nixon's secretly recorded tapes and received requests to do a AMA: https://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/6at8be/til_richard_nixon_possessed_3700_hours_of_taped/dhhp6xp/

More about the Presidential Recordings Program: https://millercenter.org/about-presidential-recordings-program

My Proof: I'm happy to send my internship offer letter/ other email correspondence with my supervisor to an admin.

Edit: I because I pasted the wrong link earlier.

Q:

So, any news lately seem familiar?

A:

Haha yes, that's why I decided/ was asked to do a AMA! I think that presidents should secretly record their conversations in the interest of transparency and historical analysis. As far as most know, the secret recordings stopped with Pres. Nixon after Watergate, but I wouldn't be surprised if they continued. That said, the tapes shouldn't be a political tool to be used by a president (like Pres. Trump)- they should be an apolitical, historical tool.


Q:

I'm sure there are many interesting things you heard that you can't talk about! Didn't you have to sign an NDA?

A:

I didn't have to sign a NDA. :) All of the tapes are public (http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/). There were some sections of the tapes which were redacted before they even got to me, however. I don't remember which agency redacted them, but I can look through my notes/ emails.

Most of the tapes I transcribed had been listened to already, but they hadn't been transcribed for publication. The tapes were most famously used to take down Nixon for Watergate, but recent discoveries have emerged from the tapes as well. For example, 2013 analysis of the tapes showed that Pres. Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War for political gain: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/nixon-prolonged-vietnam-war-for-political-gainand-johnson-knew-about-it-newly-unclassified-tapes-suggest-3595441/

Edit: Added some more detail


Q:

How interesting! What a story to live!

A:

Thank you! To be fair, most of the tapes I described were pretty mundane. The ones I hated transcribing the most were when Pres. Nixon would meet with VIPs and celebrities. He would give the same spiel about the Oval Office, give them cufflinks or some other small token, point out the presidential seal, and take photos.


Q:

Did you hear the Elvis one?

A:

Haha nope, but I just looked it up and it is hilarious! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgMTWcfA96E


Q:

Prior to this type of work, did you have a particular mindset, and did it change as a result of the "insider" knowledge, even if it was a "Monday morning quarterback" situation?

A:

Interesting question! I've always been interested in politics and history, but I admittedly didn't know much about Pres. Nixon before I started transcribing his tapes beyond the Watergate scandal. I learned a lot about the day to day responsibilities of a president, such as meeting with staff members, debating appointees, planning campaign activity, entertaining VIPs in the White House, and trying to spin the news. I still think Pres. Nixon was a bad president, but I have a better understanding of who he was and what his motivations were. I spent so much time listening to his conversations that I consider him a "crazy uncle" type figure. Also, I came to realize how insecure and desperate he was (he would get drunk and talk to White House paintings and was desperate for validation from his staffers) and sort of felt sad for him.


Q:

How do you feel about privacy and security in civilians and public figures and the difference between the two in those terms?

A:

I think that public figures have a lesser right to privacy than civilians since they act on behalf of the public. I think that all presidents should record their conversations, but I don't think they need to be made available to the public immediately. They should be used for historical context, not contemporaneous politicking.


Q:

That's a valid position, do you think that they have a right to a private life? The example that comes to mind is Hulk Hogan's scandal because he said a racial slur in his home.

A:

Fair point, although I think elected officials should be held to a higher standard than celebrities like Hulk Hogan, since electeds serve the public directly. IMO elected officials deserve a private life at home with their family, but not when they are in official meetings.

Also, Pres. Nixon also used lots of racial slurs and anti-Semitic and sexist language, just like many of the other presidents did. Of course in Nixon's case, all of that is overshadowed by Watergate.


Q:

Fair point, thanks for the discourse. One more question because I ask everybody it: Are traps gay?

A:

Uh... I'm not sure they have a sexual orientation haha!