Shootout among Arkansas Republicans

Why did a conservative Arkansas magazine allege that Sen. Tim Hutchinson is having an affair?

Published July 16, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The latest publication to out a Republican Clinton basher for infidelity is not a Larry Flynt magazine or Vanity Fair or even, but a conservative Arkansas political magazine, the Arkansas Review. In its July issue, the Review revealed U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson's upcoming divorce -- two days before his lawyer filed papers -- and suggested that Hutchinson was having an affair with a former staffer.

The revelation carried weight because the Review is owned by Sam Sellers, a former aide to Hutchinson. Sellers' decision to out his former boss has Arkansas Republicans reeling. With a friend like the Review, many are saying, state conservatives certainly don't need enemies.

In his July "From the Publisher" column, headlined "Broken Vows," Sellers wrote:

"As we go to print, the [Hutchinsons'] divorce papers are being filed and the separation is a done deal." He added: "As far as I know, though there has never been a 'that woman' in Hutchinson's life" -- referring to Clinton's denial of a sexual affair with "that woman, Ms. Lewinsky" -- Hutchinson "would have to admit there is a growing relationship with ... former legislative director, Randi Fredholm."

Almost immediately, the Donrey newspapers in Arkansas wrote about the affair, naming Fredholm and quoting the magazine. The Associated Press picked the story up and named Fredholm in its first version, but later accounts removed Fredholm's name.

Hutchinson, a Southern Baptist minister, voted to impeach the president. He is an ardent proponent of family values and a key member of the conservative Christian right. Hutchinson's brother, U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, was one of the House impeachment managers.

Sellers, 32, defends his black-and-white, semi-glossy publication, which began in April. He touts the Review as a conservative political magazine, not an organ for the Republican Party of Arkansas. Look at it more like Arkansas' answer to the Weekly Standard, he says.

"We are duty bound to print the truth," says Sellers. "That isn't palatable to some people."

Sellers explains that as a conservative publication, the Review supports strong family values, which Hutchinson's affair and divorce violate.

As he wrote in his column: "And while we're troubled to report this sad news, Tim Hutchinson's office and his support of 'family values' make this a news story. I can empathize with, although not fully understand, the pressures under which Hutchinson has lived since being elected to Congress in 1992. I was with him that year as he grew into the office of Congressman. I was there as his legislative director showered him with praise. Fleeing temptation must have been tough."

In 1991, Sellers managed Hutchinson's first congressional campaign. When Hutchinson won, Sellers followed him to Washington and worked as press secretary for a year before returning to Arkansas. Donna Hutchinson, the senator's wife, introduced Sellers to the woman he eventually married. The senator served as the couple's pre-marital counselor, and later performed the ceremony. Sellers also knew Fredholm, who was Hutchinson's legislative director.

"I don't think Tim or Donna have taken any exception" with his column, says Sellers. Hutchinson's office did not return phone calls.

Sellers says he is disappointed in Hutchinson's divorce. "I'd be inhumane not to feel something," says Sellers, who stops short of calling Hutchinson a hypocrite.

Sellers has been on local radio shows defending his revelation of the Hutchinson affair. It still hasn't stopped critics from saying that the publisher pulled a George Stephanopoulos by turning on a former employer and exposing his personal foibles.

It's not the first time Sellers has been criticized by Arkansas Republicans, who claim the Review is more likely to savage them than Democrats. In fact, the latest issue skewers more than 10 Republicans, while barely scratching a Democrat. Many who are criticized, including Hutchinson, have contributed articles and opinion columns to the fledgling magazine.

The Review is the project of several former staffers to Republican Arkansas congressmen and state officials. While in Washington, Sellers met Dan Greenberg, 33, who was press secretary for U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark. Greenberg left Washington and worked for several politicians, including Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Now, he edits the Review.

Both Dickey and Huckabee write for the magazine, but neither have been immune from attacks by their former employee. For instance, the Review revealed racial jokes Dickey made at a roast for Asa Hutchinson. He pointed out that he sometimes votes differently than the Hutchinson brothers, and attributed this to two things: Unlike them, he has minorities in his district -- Dickey suggested that the only black person the Hutchinsons had heard of was Shirley Temple Black -- and the Hutchinsons attended Bob Jones University, which lost its federal funding because of such discriminatory practices as prohibiting interracial dating.

The other Review staffer, David Sanders, 24, has also worked for Huckabee and Fay Boozman, who was the Republican U.S. Senate nominee last year. Sellers worked as Boozman's campaign manager. The first Review issue outlined Boozman's weakness -- "a real naiveti" -- as the new director of the state Department of Health.

Many Republicans believed the trio would target liberals and put Democrats on the spot. No one expected the three to slam their former bosses. Republicans who initially supported the magazine as a much-needed beacon in a Democrat-lovin' state now feel deceived, and they question the magazine's journalistic integrity and ethics.

"Arkansas Review is welcome to print whatever their readership deems worthy," says Chris Carnahan, executive director of the state Republican Party. "But facts aren't checked out, and they have a problem that confidential sources remain confidential."

Some are wondering -- and worrying -- what secrets will be exposed next. Its critics say that the Review staff simply wants to sell magazines at whatever the cost. "If they will betray the men who they worked for as staffers, they will start betraying anyone," said a source who has held various Republican Party positions.

While Huckabee won't comment on the record, those close to the governor say he was livid when the Review claimed that he refused to sign thousands of certificates for Republican donors thanking them for their commitment to the party. But critics say the Review didn't tell the whole story.

"The governor didn't say he wouldn't sign it," said Jim Harris, spokesman for Huckabee. "He was involved in a huge campaign to get his highway proposal passed by voters and couldn't be distracted. He said he could only do one major project at a time."

Another Review story about a Republican congressional candidate, Rod Martin, appeared riddled with errors.

Martin has been a regular contributor to the Review, but the magazine made numerous allegations about campaign infractions against him and his steering committee. "These allegations would be very damaging if only they were true," said a source close to both the campaign and the Review.

Ken Coon, Martin's campaign chairman, and former state party chairman, said in a letter sent to the Review this week, "I am extremely disappointed that your writer asserted such ugly untruths against so many good people, and did so without checking a single so-called 'fact.' Neither your writer nor anyone else from the Review called anyone associated with our Committee to verify a single point."

Greenberg, who plans to run for the Arkansas House of Representatives next
year against Tim Hutchinson's son, Jeremy, says the allegations about Huckabee and Martin were included in an anonymous gossip column meant as humor. "Factual mistakes will happen in any publication," adds Greenberg. "You can't take this too seriously."

Perhaps, but Martin, who has known Sanders and Sellers for more than 10 years, says, "I was just blown away. I thought these guys were my friends, and here I was reading this stuff. It was just surreal."

Surreal is a word that pops into many conversations about the Review. Glen Hooks, executive director of the state Democratic Party, says he is surprised by the magazine.

"It's an odd publication," says Hooks, who appeared on the cover of the second issue along with Carnahan. "I could take issue with some things in the story about me, but I just think the whole publication is a little weird."

As the Review struggles to gain advertisers and subscribers, Republicans offer a word of advice to the staff.

"I hope the three of them enjoy their journalistic lives, because someone would be hard pressed to hire people who stab their former employers," says Carnahan.

By Suzi Parker

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas writer.

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