Washington Free Beacon vs. The University of Arkansas

by Greg Pollowitz

There is a growing controversy between the Beacon and the University of Arkansas “Special Collections” library over the Beacon’s recent use of archived recordings from the library’s Roy Reed collection. Reed, a former journalist and professor in Arkansas, donated the recordings and other personal papers to the university between 1989 and 2000. 

At issue is this Beacon article from June 15 titled “The Hillary Tapes: Clinton tells of defense of child rapist in newly unearthed recordings.” 

In summary, the university is arguing the Beacon failed to obtain permission to publish the recordings and is demanding that the Beacon remove them from its website. The Beacon is arguing the university never told them of any restrictions and shouldn’t have to comply with them retroactively. Here’s an excerpt from the letter the Beacon’s lawyers sent to the library:

Your letter fails to provide a single reason why the Free Beacon cannot continue to publish this information. Your staff provided the recordings to the Free Beacon without any condition, apprised the Free Beacon of no “policies” limiting their dissemination, and required no agreement to be signed prior to receiving them.

You now assert that the Free Beacon violated the “policies of Special Collections,” yet you fail to quote or cite these “policies,” or explain how they bind my client. You mention a “permission to publish form,” but the Free Beacon never signed this form, nor has it ever agreed to sign it. Your staff unconditionally provided the audio recordings to the Free Beacon and the Free Beacon did not agree to any restrictions on their use. Therefore, the Free Beacon was free to publish this information, and continues to be free to do so.

A couple points to make. One, the “policies of Special Collections” are available on the library’s website and are quite clear regarding the publishing of material from the library:

Note: Publication of any material found in the manuscript collections of the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections is permitted only after a completed “Permission to Publish Request” is approved and signed by the Head of the Department. See “Forms for Requesting from Special Collections” for more information.

But, two, other than this “permission to publish” form, I don’t see any other restrictions on the material used in the Beacon piece. You can see a list of everything that’s in the Roy Reed collection here, and only one box of materials — No. 26 — is labeled as “restricted.” This lone box, according to the description of its contents, doesn’t contain anything related to Hillary anyway. 

At this point, it’s the university that needs to respond and answer why the Beacon would have been denied permission to publish these recordings in the first place. Because from what I’m seeing, there’s no issue with their use by the media or researchers other than that they’re embarrassing to Hillary Clinton.