The White House as a Black Box

Russell L. Riley’s article explores the problems created by the public’s limited access to presidential documents at the White House. He begins by referencing the white house as the “black box”, which is a reference to the Soviet Union during the cold war. This reference is used to introduce his focus on the secrecy of the White House of which senior executive officers no longer keep written records on presidential actions. In fact the last presidential records in an archive are from Jimmy Carter’s presidency. However, Riley depicts how modern presidents often donated their papers to National Archives once leaving office, but in the wake of the Watergate scandal this changed. The Watergate scandal led to the development of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 in order to give the public access to presidential documents. However, President George W. Bush then altered this act. Riley goes into discussing the significance of oral history because in this case they provide valuable information in concern to the White House that written records no longer provide. The most common oral history provided by the White House is through the press, official statements by the president, internal documents, and memoirs. Riley shows that with the significance of oral history as a source there can be problems with oral history due to time lapse of which information can be forgotten or left out.

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