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The American Spectator magazine.

The American Spectator is a conservative U.S. monthly magazine covering news and politics, edited by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and published by the non-profit American Spectator Foundation. From its founding in 1967 until the late 1980s, the small-circulation magazine featured the writings of authors such as Thomas Sowell, Tom Wolfe, P.J. O'Rourke, George F. Will, Malcolm Gladwell, Patrick J. Buchanan, and Malcolm Muggeridge, although today the magazine is best known for its attacks in the 1990s on Bill Clinton and its "Arkansas Project" to discredit the president, funded by businessman Richard Mellon Scaife and the Bradley Foundation.[1]


Founding and history

The American Spectator was founded as The Alternative in 1967 by Tyrrell and other students at Indiana University, and was originally published in a tabloid format (it is now published in a traditional magazine format).

After operating under the name The Alternative: An American Spectator for several years, in 1977 the magazine changed its name to The American Spectator because, in editor Tyrrell's words, "the word 'alternative' had come to be associated almost exclusively with radicals and with their way of life." In fact, Tyrrell had started the magazine as a conservative alternative to the student radicalism at the nation's universities in the 1960s.

During the Reagan Administration, the magazine moved from Bloomington, Indiana to suburban Washington, D.C.

The 1990s

The publication gained prominence in the 1990s by reporting on political scandals. The March 1992 issue contained David Brock's expose on Clarence Thomas accuser Anita Hill, famously calling Hill "a bit nutty and a bit slutty". Brock and his colleague Daniel Wattenberg soon moved on to a target of somewhat longer-lasting relevance: Hillary and Bill Clinton. A January 1994 article about then-President Bill Clinton's sex life contained the first reference in print to Clinton accuser Paula Jones, although the article focused on allegations that Clinton used Arkansas state troopers to facilitate his extramarital sexual activities (see Troopergate). It only referred to Jones by her first name and corroborated few if any elements of her story. This article was the basis for the claim of damages a sexual harassment lawsuit which started the chain of events resulting in President Clinton's impeachment.

David Brock recanted his accusations upon his departure from the conservative movement. He also denounced his Anita Hill article in his 2003 book Blinded by the Right: the Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. He implies that Rush Limbaugh's coverage of his Anita Hill article instigated advertising on Limbaugh's network, which resulted in a large increase in the magazine's circulation. He also implies that this caused the magazine's content to '[move] away from thoughtful essays and scholarly reviews and humor pieces' to 'hit jobs'.[2]

For his part, Wattenberg eventually incurred the displeasure of many fellow conservatives when he belatedly admitted that he had killed a story about rumors of President Clinton fathering a child out of wedlock (with a young African American woman.) Wattenberg actually tracked down a videotape of the woman being interviewed (by an unnamed third party who asked her what Wattenberg described as "softball" questions), but he never was able to interview her himself. Wattenberg's rationales for killing the story were that he had no proof that the story was true and that the woman's testimony was unconvincing. He said that she "seemed like a junkie." (The story was revived in 1999 by Matt Drudge.)

Internal strife eventually led to the departure of long-time publisher Ronald Burr after a disagreement with Tyrrell led Burr to call for an independent audit of the magazine's finances. The departure of Burr and several prominent conservative figures from the magazine's board of directors resulted in conservative foundations pulling much of the funding the nonprofit had relied on to pay high salaries to Brock and Tyrrell, as well as to fund direct-mail campaigns needed to keep up the monthly's circulation. Faced with a budget crisis, the magazine, then led by publisher Terry Eastland, a former spokesman in the Reagan Justice Department, laid off staffers and cut spending significantly. The magazine also struggled to pay legal bills incurred from an investigation launched against it by President Clinton's Justice Department for alleged witness tampering in the Whitewater investigation. The Justice Department investigation led to revelations about the "Arkansas Project," a campaign by businessman Richard Mellon Scaife to discredit the Clintons by funding investigative reporting at several conservative media outlets. The Justice Department investigation led nowhere and the Spectator was exonerated.

As shortfalls continued, George Gilder, a long time supporter of the magazine who was newly wealthy from an Internet business, purchased the magazine with the goal of turning it into a profit-making glossy with significant media buzz. Numerous staff members, demoralized by the ever-looming budget crises, were laid off or departed after Joshua Gilder and Richard Vigilante, took the reins and vowed to reach a new technology- and business-savvy audience. Circulation and budget losses continued and even increased in the Gilder era, and at one point the entire Washington-based staff other than Tyrrell and executive editor and web site editor Wladyslaw Pleszczynski were laid off as operations were moved to Massachusetts, where the rest of George Gilder's businesses were based. In 2003, George Gilder, who had lost most of his fortune with the bursting of the Internet stock bubble, sold the magazine for $1 back to Tyrrell and the American Alternative Foundation, the magazine's original owner (the name was later changed to the American Spectator Foundation). The magazine then moved operations back to the Washington, D.C. area. Later that year, former book publisher Alfred S. Regnery became the magazine's publisher. By 2004, circulation hovered at around 50,000.

The 2008 book Turkmeniscam, by Harper's Magazine journalist Ken Silverstein, reports that American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. was paid by the Carmen Group on behalf of the Kazakhstan government to visit Kazakhstan in 2000 and write favorable articles. Tyrrell wrote such an article for The Washington Times. The funding was never publicly disclosed.

Core editorial staff


  1. ^ Neil A. Lewis.Almost $2 Million Spent in Magazine's Anti-Clinton Project, but on What?, The New York Times, April 15, 1998
  2. ^ Mr Brock's 2003 book has an entire chapter (Chapter 5) devoted to describing his experience writing The Real Anita Hill article and book in the early 1990s. The 'hit jobs' quote is from pg 110. Please see "Blinded by the right: the conscience of an ex-conservative", by David Brock, Random House, Inc., 2003, ISBN 9781400047284.

External links

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