As a young lawyer in 1975, Hillary Clinton defended a man accused of raping a child, a case she discussed in a recorded interview in the mid-1980s. When the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online journal, recently came across that long-forgotten tape in the University of Arkansas library, it published a detailed story about the case. The article drew a note of praise from the head of media relations at the University of Arkansas, who congratulated the Free Beacon’s reporter on June 16 for her “fine mining expedition” into the university’s archives, and thanked her for “raising the profile of the University of Arkansas Libraries special collections.”
Yet one day later, a different university official abruptly demanded that the Free Beacon pull the Clinton audio from its website and “officially suspended” the site’s writers from further access to the University of Arkansas collections. The dean of libraries accused the Free Beacon of failing to respect the university’s “intellectual property rights and policies.” According to the Free Beacon’s attorneys, however, the library had placed no restrictions on the reporter’s use of the Clinton interview.
It doesn’t require an overactive imagination to see this as a misguided attempt by the dean — a contributor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007 — to head off any further potentially embarrassing revelations based on material in the university’s special collections. It wouldn’t be the first time a taxpayer-funded library or government archive has stonewalled journalists or historians digging into a political figure’s career.
But it is no part of a library’s mission to wall off legitimate records and documents, especially when they concern public officials. The University of Arkansas’s commitment should be to transparency, free inquiry, and the spirit of the First Amendment. Interest in Hillary Clinton, as in any potential presidential candidate, is understandably intense. Archivists and librarians have an invaluable role to play in making information available to all legitimate inquirers — and letting any political chips fall where they may.