Trail of White House Education Leaks Leads to 'Nation's Newspaper'

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Q: Where does the White House turn when it wants to leak a school-related story?

A: USA Today.

Over the last several months of this election year, as President Clinton has rolled out a series of youth- and school-related initiatives, the White House has gone to "the nation's newspaper" in an effort to gain maximum exposure.

"It's widely read," said one White House official who asked not to be named. The 2.2 million-circulation paper, published by the giant Gannett Co. Inc. of Arlington, Va., appears throughout the country five days a week.

Before a major presidential speech or announcement, White House officials will slip an advance copy of the initiative or remarks to USA Today reporters. On the morning of the event, USA Today has typically run a story--often on its front page--spelling out the impending pronouncement.

Other daily newspapers are forced to cover the story on the day after the event, providing the White House two days' worth of coverage.

For example, when Mr. Clinton addressed the nation's governors at the education summit in March, his planned remarks were summarized in one of USA Today's top stories on the morning of the speech.

"President Clinton today will challenge all 50 states to develop achievement tests that students would have to pass to be promoted and graduate," read the story's first paragraph.

"Do you imagine how angry the Republican governors were when they woke up and poked their heads out of their hotel rooms and read about what the president was going to say to them?" the White House official said.

USA Today also gave front-page play to such exclusive stories as Mr. Clinton's announcement of a school-construction initiative on July 11, $10 million in grants to combat truancy on July 3, and a tax credit for college tuition on June 4.

Sensing election-year vulnerability, top Republicans are attacking President Clinton over his drug-control policies.

Bob Dole, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee; Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa have criticized the president on the issue over the past few weeks.

"Bill Clinton would like the American people to believe he has been a crusader for America's children, but the hard, cold facts tell a different story when it comes to the drug war," Mr. Barbour said in a news release last month. "Bill Clinton has been AWOL--Absent Without Leadership--in the war on drugs, and the nation's schoolchildren are paying the price."

Democrats have responded by noting that Mr. Dole voted against Mr. Clinton's 1994 anti-crime legislation and funding increases for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program.

As expected, delegates to the National Education Association's annual Representative Assembly endorsed President Clinton for re-election.

Mr. Clinton was selected for endorsement by 91.5 percent of the more than 7,900 union delegates voting last month. The NEA, with 2.2 million members, is the nation's largest teachers' union. It has long been a big player in Democratic Party politics.

The decision by the delegates meeting in Washington was the final stage in the union's endorsement process.

The American Federation of Teachers is expected to make a similar endorsement this week.

Vol. 15, Issue 41

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