Russell L. Riley, “The White House as a Black Box”

Riley examines the strengths and weaknesses of oral history in providing accurate evidence of the inner workings of the executive branch of government in the U.S. He uses the current White House as an example of the “black box” (187). The term “black box” originated during the Cold War when historians weren’t aware of the inner workings of the Russian government due to a lack of free-flowing information (187). Today in the U.S., senior executive officers no longer keep detailed written records of their thoughts and activities due to reasons such as national security anxiety or just neglect (188). As a result, oral histories have became very valuable resource because of a lack of other primary sources (188). Communication to the public through media or spokespeople has become a priority amongst the American public (189). Oral histories compensate in areas that lack written documentation (195). However, one reality of oral histories of president’s is that information can often times be omitted (196). Good oral histories are conducted with a historian who is friendly, professional, and speaks openly and candidly (201).

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