CNN Followed Clinton Document Access Rules Free Beacon Ignored

The Washington Free Beacon's claim that it's being singled out by the University of Arkansas Library for unfair treatment in its reporting on Hillary Clinton-related documents was debunked by CNN, which confirmed it followed the same rules the Free Beacon was punished for not following.

The Free Beacon was informed on June 17 by the library that its access to their archives had been suspended because Free Beacon researchers had not followed standard procedures for gaining permission to publish library documents related to Clinton back in February. The Free Beacon suggested the revocation of their access was political retribution.

But CNN officials confirmed to Media Matters that its researchers were required to fill out permission forms to first gain access to the library's collection of private documents in February related to Hillary Clinton, and later submit separate requests for approval to publish the documents on its website.

“We do have policies that are in place for all researchers and we expect all of our researchers to comply,” said Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor for university relations for the University of Arkansas. “The idea that we would single out any researcher is false. It is unfortunate that we have been characterized as trying to stifle academic freedom. It is one of the core tenets that we take seriously. Frankly, this is a simple procedural matter.”

In a story on June 20 about an interview Clinton had given in the 1980's, the Free Beacon claimed it was never told to file any forms or seek permission.

“I find that hard to believe,” said Jacobs. “The process is when you come in to research in our special collection, you sit down with the research manager, you sign something saying you will comply with our policies, you tell the reading room manager materials you would like to access and it is pro forma.”

In fact, the University of Arkansas Library provided Business Insider with copies of the request forms that Shawn  Reinschmiedt, a GOP operative who worked with the Free Beacon to provide research for the story, signed, including an email that noted that he would be required to fill out an additional form if he wished to publish.

The Free Beacon did not comment on the forms, but told Business Insider they did not believe the University had the right to restrict publication of the documents.

“You can get materials for personal use, we will provide materials for you all day long,” Jacobs added. “When you ask us to duplicate materials, if you intend to publish them you are required to complete the permission to publish form.”

CNN officials on Monday confirmed CNN researchers who posted a similar story in February did file such forms and requests for permission and were granted approval.

University of Arkansas Dean of Libraries Carolyn Henderson Allen posted her own response to the dispute on Friday with a website message that stated, in part:

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation regarding a claim that The Washington Free Beacon was “banned” from Special Collections. The issue is that this media outlet failed to comply with standard library policies followed across the nation.

If The Washington Free Beacon can agree to follow the library's rules, the same rules practiced by all other patrons, then we will reinstate its research privileges. This isn't an issue about withholding information, the bottom line is they failed to obtain permission to publish copyrighted material.   

Further, this is not the first time we've asked The Free Beacon to follow our procedure. They were notified in February following a similar lack of policy compliance. We've never denied a permission to publish for a patron. There's nothing unique about this requirement.

Allen's post also linked to copies of the forms that are needed to obtain access and permission to publish.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, defended the university's library policy, noting that as an academic library it is not held to the same standards as other public libraries.

“The courts have held that libraries are entitled to apply reasonable rules to accessing their collections or using facilities as long as they are applied equally to every user and are unrelated to the content,” Stone said. “We see this frequently, especially for special collections and rare books.”

She said the University of Arkansas' library policies “are very comparable to other academic institutions with special collections.”