Comparing Coverage of Clinton-AFT Meeting Reveals Tidbits

Four outlets — EdWeek, BuzzFeed, the New York Times, and MSNBC — all covered recent meetings between the AFT and Democratic presidential contenders.

What can we learn by taking a quick look at them all together?  

*EdWeek was first and included some useful broad observations about the candidates’ responses to union questions but had little or no additional reporting.

*BuzzFeed and MSNBC’s versions of the story had the additional benefit of interview responses from AFT head Weingarten (who leans heavily towards Clinton over the other candidates).

*The NYT version includes a quote from DFER about reformers’ interest in meeting with Clinton, as well as a link to a previous piece about the internal pressures and worries from reformers and unions about Clinton’s positions on education issues.

*Nobody seems to have tried or gotten any insights from the campaigns about how the meetings went.

The subtext here is that the candidates are paying attention to union support and that the AFT and Clinton don’t have to do much to generate media coverage even if there’s no real news.  Clinton on Vergara, testing opt-outs, the parent trigger, or on evaluating teachers based in part on student test scores would have been something, but we’re going to have to wait and cross our fingers for some aggressive reporting before we get that kind of thing.

For a bit more detail about each piece:

EdWeek was first to publish. Alyson Klein’s Wednesday night post (What Did Democratic Presidential Candidates Tell AFT Union Leaders?) featured a tentative headline, took a broad look at what the candidates said, and quoted long passages from the materials sent out by the AFT (and disclosed in Klein’s piece, which is a good thing). The piece notes that Clinton “name-checked her favorite issue—early education” and includes the passage in which Clinton talks about teachers being scapegoating but doesn’t focus particular attention the issue.

BuzzFeed came in slightly after EdWeek and is much more extensive. Ruby Cramer’s piece (Hillary Clinton Works For The Support Of An Old Ally) was posted at about 10:25 and focuses on the generally positive reflections of AFT head Randi Weingarten about Clinton’s performance (and Weingarten’s seat on a SuperPAC devoted to getting Clinton elected). “Both in terms of the presentation as well as the questions, Secretary Clinton was clearly understood and spoke in great depth,” said Weingarten in the BuzzFeed piece. The piece also notes the reform-oriented pressures on Clinton that have grown in recent years, referencing a NYT piece in which Clinton aide Anne O’Leary promised that both sides would have access to the candidate.

The NYT came in yesterday at 3:22. Maggie Haberman’s piece (Appealing to Union, Hillary Clinton Calls Teachers ‘Scapegoats’) has the most focused headline and attempts to credit BuzzFeed for being to the story first (an oversight, according to Haberman). She leads with the Clinton scapegoat quote, notes the new pressures from reform supporters (and has a quote from DFER’s Lea Crusey that reformers are in contact with the campaign but don’t yet seem to have met with her).

Coming in last, MSNBC’s piece, written by Alex Seitz-Wald (Hillary Clinton could position herself to the left of Obama on education), was published on the 4th at almost 4 pm, includes not only what Clinton and the others said but also some additional thoughts from AFT head Randi Weingarten in which she praised Clinton’s responses and told MSNBC that it was Clinton whom AFT members were most interested in meeting. The piece also notes that Clinton has come out in the past against vouchers, but claimed not to have read the Vergara ruling, and that the union invited Republican candidates to come in and talk but didn’t get any takers.

One last thing:  

There was no “scoop” here, since these stories all come from the AFT rather than having been dug up or discovered by someone. Still, it’s good etiquette to credit whomever is first to publish, which was EdWeek. Haberman says it was an oversight. Klein says she isn’t bothered.

My understanding is that some of the outlets got the information first, exclusively, and were offered interviews with Weingarten.  From the stories that were produced, that looks to be MSNBC and BuzzFeed. EdWeek and the NYT were working off of the AFT press release that went wide, and in the Times’ case, from BuzzFeed’s coverage.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.