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Skewed Press Priorities

When a Cabinet secretary can't muster a hearing

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People everywhere are troubled by the way our schools are failing our children and are vitally interested in what is being done about it.

Yet, just a few days ago, the Monitor had to call off a scheduled breakfast-group meeting with the Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, because so few reporters were going to show up for the event.

Over the years the Monitor's group averages about 20 to 25 journalists. I thought we certainly would draw that many reporters for Mr. Riley. He is a Cabinet member: That alone would usually mean we would have a respectable turnout of reporters from the news bureaus on our call list. But with education being such a hot subject, I felt certain that the Carlton Hotel room, where we would be gathering, would be crammed with reporters.

Well, when we canceled - so as not to embarrass the secretary with such a low turnout -- we had only seven reporters who said they were coming. Reasons given by the bureaus for this lack of interest? Mostly the excuse was that their reporters were busy on other topics and couldn't be spared for an hour with Riley. Often there was no excuse given - just a "no." Education and Riley weren't worth covering - or so it seemed.

And where is the press' focus these days? A silly question. We all know that the media is giving its prime attention to the president and the sex story. "Who is testifying before the grand jury?" "What's Lewinsky saying?" "How is Mr. Clinton faring?" That's where the press' spotlight is, day after day. And, obviously, it is in search of answers to those questions that the news bureaus are sending most of their reporters these days - to make certain that no titillating development is missed and that no other news organization gets there first.

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