American Spectator Foundation
- Location: Arlington, VA
- Tax-Exempt Status: 501(c)(3)
- EIN: 23-7002632
- Website: http://spectator.org/
The American Spectator Foundation is responsible for publishing the The American Spectator and “training aspiring journalists who espouse traditional American values.”
The American Spectator became especially prominent in the 1990s by focusing on a variety of manufactured scandals during the Clinton Administration. Key to this was a focus on “information about the activities of Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, during their years in Arkansas,” a strategy eventually named “The Arkansas Project.” From 1993 until 1997, conservative megadonor Richard Mellon Scaife gave the magazine $2.4 million dollars, with $1.8 million dedicated specifically to the Arkansas Project. It was primarily this work that Hillary Clinton was referring to when she deplored the “vast right wing conspiracy.”
The New York Times writes: “The most obvious and immediate fruits of the Arkansas Project were a handful of lengthy articles in The Spectator portraying the Clintons as a slick political couple addled by greed and ambition, a view that reflected the magazine’s unrelentingly critical view of the President.” The articles focused primarily on the Whitewater investment scandal – for which the Clintons were never found guilty of any wrongdoing – and eventually the conspiracy theories extended to the suicide of Clinton aide Vincent Foster, which Scaithe described as “the Rosetta Stone to the whole Clinton Administration.” Scaithe eventually ended funding to the Spectator and vowed to never give the magazine another cent after it published a scathing review of a book by Christopher Ruddy which claimed Foster was murdered. Three independent investigations concluded Foster’s death was a suicide. At that point, the conspiracy theorizing and, along with it, Scaithe’s money moved to Accuracy in Media, which was still promoting the conspiracy theory as late as 2004.
As part of the Arkansas Project, Citizens for Honest Government “covertly paid individuals who provided information to media outlets such as… the American Spectator magazine, which named them as sources.” Among those paid were two Arkansas state troopers who received money in exchange for claiming that Clinton was involved in both an extramarital affair with Paula Jones and in the Foster suicide.
The Arkansas Project was tremendously successful for the magazine; its circulation grew from 30,000 in 1990 to around 300,000 in 1995. Since the end of the Arkansas Project, however, the magazine’s influence has shrunk, although it has rebounded in recent years from its early 2000’s lows.
The organization has a comfy relationship with members of the conservative establishment. It hosts an annual fundraising gala which features prominent Republicans as speakers; in 2010, then-RNC Chair Michael Steele, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, Chamber of Commerce board member William Walton all attended, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann gave the keynote speech. Also attending was Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was the keynote speaker at the event in 2008. ThinkProgress noted that, had the Supreme Court not exempted itself from the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Alito’s frequent attendance at the gala would almost certainly be a violation of the Code. The Spectator certainly returns the favor with glowing articles praising “the most principled and civilized high court justice” and “the pleasure of Justice Alito’s company” and decrying that he is being “gang[ed] up on” by the left.
The story of the magazine’s origins is at least somewhat contested. In 1924, George Nathan and Truman Newberry founded a literary magazine entitled The American Spectator. The Spectator claims this heritage, saying “The American Spectator was founded in 1924 by George Nathan and Truman Newberry… In 1967 the Saturday Evening Club took it over…” However, the original American Spectator had folded by 1937 and an encyclopedia wrote in 2003 that the 1924 magazine is “not to be confused with… the neoconservative journal of opinion organized in 1977…” In 1967, the modern incarceration of the Spectator was born as a student publication at Indiana University, originally entitled “The Alternative.” By 1977, however, founder Bob Tyrrell began to worry about the “hippie” connotations of the word “alternative.” That year, he changed the name “to discourage unsolicited manuscripts from florists, beauticians, and other creative types.” The American Journalism Review indicated that he borrowed the name from the original 1924 magazine.
Bob Tyrell remains the editor-in-chief of this magazine and has overseen the magazine’s publication of often homophobic articles since 1967. In his Times interview, he argued “There are thousands of years of moral teaching suggesting homosexuality is wrong,” and “AIDS is spread by promiscuous homosexual sex. Homosexuals, responsible and restrained, have been less of a problem.” Continuing, he argued that gays are “bringing about ‘an end to community.’” Confusingly, the magazine once published an essay claiming that “Youthful, nicely muscled homosexuals often have heads like the well-known butternut squash.”
The magazine has also made a frequent target of feminism. The Times said that “To Tyrrell, feminists are bed wetters.” A review of the Spectator in the book The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America found that “[The Spectator] found [feminism’s] morality simplistic… It found feminist literature shrill and self-serving… One contributor who undertook an extended essay on Ms. Magazine gained from the experience only a new respect or St. Paul’s admonition against women speaking in church.” It goes on to quote a Spectator article arguing that feminists were fighting against the “natural order of things.” Recently, an article complained about the “online lynching” of Bill Cosby and asked if one of the women who has accused Cosby of rape didn’t report the incidents “because they never happened in the first place? The authorities don’t take kindly to people filing false police reports.” Much of this attitude appears to have evolved from the Spectator’s intention to provide an irreverently conservative take –focusing on “farcical” takes on the issues and people at the center of politics, as opposed to more buttoned-down publications; for instance, Spectator employs a “Chief Saloon Correspondent.”
The Spectator’s ranks of contributors have included a number of prominent conservatives: Americans For Tax Reform’s Gorver Norquist, Ben Stein, Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, former Senator Jim DeMint, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Erick Erickson, Steve Forbes, Milton Friedman, humorist P.J. O’Rourke, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and many others are among the Spectator’s extensive list of contributors.