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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 1967 until the late 1980s, the 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. During the 1990s, the magazine was better known for its reports on Bill Clinton and its “Arkansas Project”, funded by businessman Richard Mellon Scaife and the Bradley Foundation. The American Spectator has carried articles by Thomas Sowell, a regular column by economist and celebrity Ben Stein, as well as articles by a variety of less-famous conservative commentators such as former Reagan aide Jeffrey Lord, conservative health care consultant David Catron, and editorial director Wladyslaw Pleszczynski, as well as occasional articles by P.J. O’Rourke.
The American Spectator was founded in 1924 by George Jean Nathan and Truman Newberry. In 1967, the Saturday Evening Club took it over and renamed it The Alternative: An American Spectator.
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. American Spectator is not affiliated with The Spectator, a British magazine of somewhat similar format and conservatism.
During the Reagan Administration, the magazine moved from Bloomington, Indiana to suburban Washington, D.C.
The publication gained prominence in the 1990s by reporting on political scandals. The March 1992 issue contained David Brock’s criticism of Clarence Thomas accuser Anita Hill. Brock and his colleague Daniel Wattenberg soon aimed at a bigger target: 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’.
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 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 the 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 conservativ