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The 'spin' on scoops

When President Clinton proposed spending $70 million on teacher training last July, his comments may have said more about politics than policy, a book suggests.

The president announced the program in a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but many of the nation's newspapers--including TheNew York Times, TheWashington Post, and USA Today--received advance warning from White House press secretary Michael McCurry and his staff. The papers all did stories on the program in their editions published the day of the speech.

"This was the sort of piddling proposal that on a busy day barely would have rated a paragraph in the nation's top newspapers," writes Howard Kurtz in his new book, Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine. "But by whispering it to selected reporters, McCurry's people artificially inflated its market value."

He suggests, too, that White House hype drowned out other news. USA Today, for example, placed its story on the forthcoming presidential announcement on the top of a page, while burying a story about campaign-finance hearings below it, writes Mr. Kurtz, who is TheWashington Post's media critic.

While all newspapers benefit from official leaks, USA Today reporters are the most likely to get the scoop on education stories, Mr. Kurtz reports.

According to his book, the paper tracks daily developments in campaign finance and Washington scandals less closely than other national papers. What's more, it gives education stories prominent play, often on the front page.

"USA Today was more populist, more likely to reflect what people were buzzing about and what was in the local papers," Mr. Kurtz writes in Spin Cycle, which chronicles the Clinton administration's relationship with the media throughout 1997.

That strategy was not new. During Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, USA Today ran stories about the president's education policies before he announced them. At least four stories were leaked to the newspaper, each time resulting in a front-page story. ("Trail of White House Education Leaks Leads to 'Nation's Newspaper'," Aug. 7, 1996.)

--DAVID J. HOFF federal@epe.org

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