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Papers of Clintons’ pal suddenly very popular

National media jostle over 16 boxes by Bill Bowden | February 12, 2014 at 5:05 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE - National political reporters from New York City and Washington, D.C., rushed to Northwest Arkansas this week to dig through the papers of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s friend Diane Blair at the University of Arkansas.

The frenzy was caused by a story posted online Sunday that portrayed the former U.S. and Arkansas first lady as politically “ruthless.”

Blair, who died in 2000, took notes after conversations with her close friend, and some of those notes were reproduced in Sunday’s article in The Washington Free Beacon.

Tidbits included Clinton referring to Monica Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony toon” and to the media as having “big egos and no brains.”

Clinton also said she wasn’t going to change into somebody other than herself just to be politically successful.

“I’m used to winning, and I intend to win on my own terms,” Blair quoted Clinton as saying in 1996.

The records, donated to the school, have been open to the public - without great notice - since 2010. On Tuesday, after the story was published by the conservative news site, journalists from The Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC and ABC swarmed into the Special Collections section in the basement of the UA library.

Joshua Youngblood, research and outreach services librarian, said that before this week, a researcher would ask to see the Blair papers about once a month.

And in the past three years, there have been at most 20 requests from journalists for access to the Blair papers, said Youngblood. That was before this week.

Blair, a UA political science professor and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, planned to write a book about the Clintons, but she died of lung cancer before she could do it.

Her husband, Jim Blair, donated the papers to UA in 2005. Youngblood said it took five years to archive the 109 boxes of material. Sixteen of the boxes focus on the Clintons. They contained photos, handwritten notes and old congressional, gubernatorial and presidential campaign materials.

Youngblood said he didn’t know how many papers were in the Blair collection or in the 16 boxes on the Clintons. A box is a linear foot and could hold thousands of pages, he said.

The collection wasn’t open to the public when Hillary Clinton ran for the presidential nomination in 2008, but it is now, as she considers a presidential run in 2016.

Steve Voorhies, a spokesman for UA, said he had several calls from national media Monday.

“We’ve had questions like, ‘Why do you think this information was leaked?’” said Voorhies. “The answer is it wasn’t leaked. It’s been open since 2010.”

Voorhies said he’s been providing background on Blair and helping national media with travel plans.

“One of my main functions was to try to convince them not to fly into Little Rock because there were snowstorms coming in,” said Voorhies.

Instead, Voorhies suggested that they fly to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, which is about 25 miles from Fayetteville. Little Rock is 190 miles from Fayetteville.

By 1 p.m. Tuesday, the atmosphere in the Special Collections section was getting tense. One of the boxes - Series III, Subseries 3, Box 1 - had proved by far to be the most popular, and one reporter had held onto it for more than two hours.

So a 45-minute time limit was imposed for the rest of the day, said Youngblood.

“We very rarely have multiple people make requests on the same box,” he said. “It’s just for today. It’s just trying to get as many people into the material as we can.”

Series III, Subseries 3, Box 1 was titled “The Presidential Years.” Among other things, it contained correspondence from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Diane Blair from the early 1990s through 2000.

“I think some of our researchers are getting a little antsy because it’s getting close to 5 p.m., and they need the box,” said Youngblood.

When asked about the potential for trouble in the Special Collections section, where not even ink pens are allowed, Youngblood said, “Archive riots are rare.”

Douglas Adams, a producer for NBC television,said the information in the Blair collection would “make for interesting fodder if Hillary runs in 2016” because of Blair’s close relationship to the Clintons during Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns.

Adams said he thought the Beacon article didn’t give the “full picture of Hillary” that emerged from the Blair papers.

“You had an educated, accomplished woman who was playing a substantive role in her husband’s gubernatorial administration,” said Adams. “Then she comes to Washington, and she’s frustrated by the role of first lady.”

In other letters, Hillary Clinton is dealing with personal matters.

“Later you get to see how she’s struggling as a mother and a wife with her husband’s dalliances on an emotional level, but also with the political implications,” said Adams.

Youngblood said the Special Collections section normally has between seven and 10 researchers a day, usually researching Arkansas history or Arkansas politics.

On Tuesday morning, while the media representatives were digging through the Blair boxes, a class of five students entered to work on French colonial transcription. Nearby, a couple of other students quietly worked on their own projects.

Youngblood said the librarians didn’t anticipate this week’s rush into Special Collections.

Referring to the amount of activity Tuesday, Timothy Nutt - head of special collections - said, “this is certainly unusual for this collection.”

Because of “patron confidentiality,” Nutt said he couldn’t reveal which media outlets had looked at the Blair collection.

But Voorhies confirmed that the Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC and ABC had researchers there Tuesday. Voorhies said he received calls from other national media outlets, including Time magazine.

Nutt said the “golden egg” may already have been found.

“I sort of liken it to an Easter egg hunt when you were a child,” he said. “Someone finds the golden egg … so all the other kids run over to the same place thinking they’re going to find the golden egg when, in fact, there’s only one golden egg, and it’s already been found.”

The documents were hardly a secret.

In March 2010, Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, provided a video greeting for the event opening the Diane D. Blair Papers.

“I hope some young scholar will come along and write the story of Diane,” Hillary Clinton said. “This, along with so many of her contributions to all of us, lives on.”

Several national media outlets criticized the UA library during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, claiming that the library had delayed the release of the documents to avoid harming the former first lady’s image.

But Tom Dillard, who was head of Special Collections in 2010, denied that, calling the cataloging a “monumental task.”

Front Section, Pages 1 on 02/12/2014

Print Headline: Papers of Clintons’ pal suddenly very popular


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