The University of Arkansas temporarily suspended research privileges for the Washington Free Beacon after the conservative website published audio recordings of Hillary Clinton discussing a rape case she defended in 1975.
The library’s dean informed the site’s editor-in-chief Tuesday that its reporters had been told they must fill out forms asking for permission to publish material from the archives – as all other patrons are required.
The reporters had been notified that failure to do so would lead to a suspension of the site’s research privileges, said Library Dean Carolyn Henderson Allen.
“I am very disappointed in your willful failure to comply with the policies of Special Collection," Allen wrote. "The University of Arkansas takes great pride in making materials, such as the Roy Reed collection, available to researchers around the world. The University, however, does not tolerate the blatant and willful disregard of its intellectual property rights and policies."
The Free Beacon, which is funded by the conservative Center for American Freedom, reported that Allen had donated $500 to Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007 and that the university chancellor copied on Allen’s letter had been a law student under both Hillary and Bill Clinton.
An attorney for the website disputes the dean’s claim, saying no conditions had been imposed on publication, and arguing the university had not demonstrated copyright ownership over the recordings.
The library’s website claims standard copyright laws apply to the collection under Title 17 of the U.S. Code.
“I find it stunning that you would seek to censor the dissemination of lawfully acquired information that is clearly in the public interest, given the historic role that libraries long have played in fostering free expression and the broad dissemination of information,” wrote attorney Kurt Wimmer. “In addition to being entirely inaccurate as a matter of both law and fact, your letter is a clear assault on the First Amendment principles that are fundamental to libraries and to journalism.”
The recordings -- which were made in the 1980s by journalist, biographer, and author Roy Reed -- contain comments made by Clinton about her representation of a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in 1975.
Clinton suggests in the recordings that she believed her client was guilty, although he had passed a polygraph test, and the man accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to one year in prison, according to the Free Beacon report.
The victim had said in 2008 that she believed Clinton was just doing her job, but she told The Daily Beast this week that the recordings had changed her view.
“It’s proven fact, with all the tapes, she lied like a dog on me,” the victim said. “I think she was trying to do whatever she could do to make herself look good at the time.”
The library’s director of media relations told Politico the university was examining library confidentiality laws and pointed out the Free Beacon had not been banned, and no legal action has been threatened against the publication.
The Free Beacon reported that media relations director Steve Voorhies congratulated the website on “another fine mining expedition.”
“I appreciate you raising the profile of the University of Arkansas Libraries special collections,” Voorhies said in an email before asking for advanced notice prior to future stories. “I expect there is more you will find in coming months.”
The conservative website had published “The Hillary Papers,” a lengthy investigative report based on the personal papers of Clinton’s friend Diane Blair housed in the university library’s special collections, that portrays the former First Lady as a “ruthless” political operative.
Library officials said Friday that the Free Beacon had been asked following the publication of that earlier report to comply with its policy requiring permission to republish materials from special collections – and noted that no patron had ever been denied permission to publish.
“This isn’t an issue about withholding information, the bottom line is they failed to obtain permission to publish copyrighted material,” the library said in a statement posted on its website.
The library said it maintains special collections so the media and general public can access them, and officials said they would restore the Free Beacon’s privileges once the organization agrees to follow the same rules as other patrons.
Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb – a partner at the lobbying firm Orion Strategies and former public relations staffer for Koch Industries with a history of promoting his clients’ interests through his media associations -- insisted the website would neither cease nor desist.
“Regardless of the politics surrounding these events, we hope that press will scrutinize the university's conduct here, and that decent people will stand with us in condemning this attack on our first amendment rights. We will not cease and desist,” Goldfarb said.