Now Nixon may get turn in Stone fun house mirror

ON POLITICS

March 14, 1995|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- It's a free country, and the First Amendment applies to filmmaker Oliver Stone as it does to everybody else. But if the newsmagazine reports are true about Stone's latest plans for another "fictional documentary" movie like his controversial "JFK," the constitutional protection of free speech is going to be sorely tried.

This time, according to Time, Stone is working from a script that presents the late Richard Nixon, first as vice president and later as president, as involved somehow in schemes ranging from plans to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro to killing President John F. Kennedy.

And Newsweek reports that the script paints Nixon as "a misunderstood but largely innocent victim of evil forces -- including the CIA, J. Edgar Hoover, Cubans, his Quaker mom."

A prologue to the screenplay, according to Time, notes that "some scenes . . . have been imagined" and that the script is "based on numerous public sources and on incomplete historical findings," whatever they may be.

Stone's "JFK," you will remember, took the movie maker's conspiratorial theories and interspersed staged scenes that may or may not have happened with actual footage of the Kennedy assassination, in a way that could create for all those who did not know better the impression that they were watching unadulterated documentary.

Now apparently, Stone is turning this technique to the departed Nixon, stretching "incomplete historical findings" to inject yet another set of unproven conspiratorial theories into the mainstream of the American consciousness.

You might have thought that the plain, well-established facts about Nixon's career would have been enough for Stone if he wanted to cast the late president as a scoundrel.

While Nixon's reputation will be tarnished in history mostly because of the sordid Watergate affair, there were plenty of other episodes that Stone could have dramatized without resorting to his imagination to further sully that reputation.

There were Nixon's unsavory campaign tactics in his early races against Democrats Jerry Voorhis for a House seat and Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate.

There was his behind-the-scenes maneuvering within the California Republican convention delegation for presidential aspirant Tom Dewey of New York in 1948 while he was pledged to support favorite son Gov. Earl Warren.

But all this may have been too tame for Stone, who elected in his distorted film on the Kennedy assassination to contrive to advance his conspiracy theories with cinematographic sleight of hand.

If the newsmagazine accounts are correct and Stone pursues the script they describe to consummation of such a film, the victim, however, will not be Nixon only. In a society in which

various purveyors of fiction as fact are coming to dominate the airwaves by way of radio and television talk shows, credibility of the whole communications media is at risk.

Regarding Stone's "JFK," millions of Americans who were around at the time of the president's assassination were able to separate the fact from the fiction in that film.

Similarly, Americans who lived through the Nixon era will have their memories of his conduct and the record of his public career to sort out what happened from what Stone imagines happened, and suspend belief until there is proof, if any, of his conspiracy theories.

But there are millions more of young Americans, and older ones, too, who have never taken the time to learn the facts about Nixon, who will be ready to accept cunningly crafted fiction as fact, especially if they "see it with my own eyes" in the guise of the documentary film form.

Many still insist, after all, that Nixon was innocent of the Watergate crimes and cover-up in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.

The strength of the documentary film is that, in its pure form, it presents what happened and lets the viewer make his or her judgment.

When it is doctored to prove a point or theory, no matter how deeply believed by the producer, it loads the scales -- and in the process undermines public credibility toward all conveyors of information.

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