The University of Arkansas
The conservative website Washington Free Beacon was barred from accessing the special collections archive at the University of Arkansas library after it published a story featuring audiotapes of Hillary Clinton that were kept at the school. On Thursday, a lawyer for the Free Beacon sent the university a letter accusing University of Arkansas officials of "illegally prohibit(ing) the Free Beacon from accessing public records solely because you disagree with the material that the Free Beacon published." However, a spokesperson for the school told Business Insider the entire situation is a "big misunderstanding."
"They weren't banned from our special collections, the Free Beacon was asked to follow a process to fill out a form asking for permission to publish the audio," Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations Laura Jacobs said in a phone conversation Friday. "It's called a permission to publish form and our policy is that before material accessed from our collections are published, we require all library patrons to fill out a form."
Jacobs disputed a Free Beacon report that claimed the school issued a "ban" on the website.
"A ban, I think, is an overstatement," said Jacobs. "I think a suspesnion carries with it that it's a temporary condition."
Jacobs claimed the suspension was the first the library ever gave to an agency. She also said the Free Beacon was notified of the library's procedures prior to publishing the story.
"This is not the first time weve asked the Free Beacon to follow our procedure. We notified them earlier that this is what they needed to do. They understood," Jacobs said. "Our terms are standard library policies. This is not weird, it's not a big deal."
Jacobs said the library would reinstate the Free Beacon's research privileges if the site temporarily takes down the story on the Clinton tapes and waits for a permission form to be processed. The story featured audio of Clinton discussing a case where she defended a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in 1975. Jacobs also said the library would have no issue letting the Free Beacon or another conservative outlet use its facilities.
"We would never make any type of distinction about any type of researcher. That's the whole point. We're a library, we want people to come access it. We just expect people to follow our policies," said Jacobs. "This is not about any feeling about the way the material is used."
Business Insider reached out to Alana Goodman, the reporter who wrote the story based on the tapes, to ask whether she had been notified of the library's procedures. Goodman referred us to Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb, who provided us a letter Kurt Wimmer, an attorney representing the site, sent to the University of Arkansas dean of libraries Thursday. In that letter, Wimmer said the recordings were provided to the site "without any condition."
Goldfarb also said the Free Beacon would "continue to publish additional pieces of the audio" and would fight any effort by the library to "try to enforce this ban."
"I don't really understand the distinction between a suspension and a ban – they say we aren't allowed in their library," Goldfarb said. "We will not take the story down. We will continue to publish additional pieces of the audio. And if they try to enforce this ban we will act aggressively to defend our right to review public records housed in a public institution."
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