Betsy DeVos finally speaks to reporters

The Education of Betsy DeVos – a predictably forgotten saga of the tumultuous early Trump administration – now includes a belated milestone: being interviewed by reporters.

DeVos sat down with the Associated Press in her Department of Education office. The mere act of sitting down with them should not be news. But, after a near-disastrous Senate confirmation hearing, where her ignorance of some basic department issues was not political bliss, she has shied from serious contact with them.

She even found a convenient scheduling difficulty to not show at the annual Education Writers Association annual meeting. It should have been a pro forma appearance. Instead, it was an act of self-defeating avoidance.

The wealthy charter school advocate from Michigan took months to find a department spokesman and was almost aggressively unresponsive to media requests.

She'd make herself fleetingly available on some impromptu occasions during school visits far away from Washington, where most of the best education writers ply their trade. She avoided reporter questions at speaking events, even ducking them with the help of her security team when approached once in a hotel corridor.

Finally, in early July, she participated in what NBC hailed as her first "network news interview" on Megyn Kelly's new Sunday show, but what aired only constituted banal comments on charter schools.

Now comes the office interview and her backtracking on some controversial comments. As the story opened:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday distanced herself from her comment earlier this year about the nation's historically black colleges and universities being pioneers of school choice, saying that in the past 'there were no choices' for African-Americans in higher education.

'When I talked about it being a pioneer in choice it was because I acknowledge that racism was rampant and there were no choices,' DeVos said in an interview with The Associated Press in her office at the Education Department. 'These HBCUs provided choices for black students that they didn't have.'

As far as DeVos taking part in an actual inquiry, "I’m really pleased that Secretary DeVos finally sat down with one of the mainstream outlets that regularly covers her," said Greg Toppo, USA Today education writer and president of the Education Writers Association.

"I enjoyed the piece and learned a lot. Maria Danilova is a first-rate reporter and Carole Feldman, who was my editor when I covered education at the AP in Washington, D.C., is one of the most knowledgeable, smart and experienced education journalists in the country."

"Their piece is fair but tough – it gives everyone a clearer, more nuanced look at DeVos’ outlook and her priorities while holding her accountable for her past statements," he said. "I hope she continues to talk to the press as often as she can."

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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