How Tony Snow Will Do the Job

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The day before joining President Bush at the briefing room podium, Tony Snow of Fox News got a fresh trim at a Georgetown salon — signaling the coming denouement of a very public courtship by the White House. Going on The O'Reilly Factor to talk about a job offer from the President might have meant the death penalty from this White House, but Snow has already shown he has an unusual degree of latitude.

A Republican official familiar with the selection process said Snow, 50, was chosen because Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Counselor Dan Bartlett want "an informed and successful advocate" who can spar with reporters and make the White House case more aggressively — both off-camera and on. One official said the cerebral Bolten wanted someone who could be "not an intellectual equal, but an intellectual peer." Snow, who was speechwriting director for President George H.W. Bush, is a longtime friend of Bolten's, and they recently had lunch together.

Snow will work at his Fairfax County home next week, and take over on May 8. One of his first acts was to give an exclusive interview to Fox News on Wednesday night, and Washington managing editor Brit Hume, a former ABC News White House correspondent, asked if he anticipated or hoped to be liked by the press corps.

"I think the most important thing is to be respected by the press corps," Snow replied. "As you know, being chummy is one thing, but if I'm chummy and they're not getting information or they're getting a quality of information that they don't think is worthwhile, it's not going to do you any good. So the idea, I think, is to do a competent job in terms of getting information to the press corps so that they respect you. You never lie. You never try to shave the truth. But on the other hand, you've got to keep in mind the guy I'm working for is the President."

The President made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room at 9:10 a.m. to make the announcement at the precise moment it could be carried live with maximum drama on Fox News Talk’s The Tony Snow Show, carried on roughly 125 radio stations. Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends and Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News "senior judicial analyst," did the honors as guest hosts.

In the briefing room before "the official two-minute warning for the press," there was a bit of joshing about a Fox personality suddenly becoming a top White House official. "Fox coming through," a cameraman joked as he elbowed toward the front.

"I am confident he will help you do your job," Bush said. "My job is to make decisions, and his job is to help explain those decisions to the press corps and the American people. He understands, like I understand, that the press is vital to our democracy. As a professional journalist, Tony Snow understands the importance of the relationship between government and those whose job it is to cover the government. He's going to work hard to provide you with timely information about my philosophy, my priorities, and the actions we're taking to implement our agenda."

Bush was flanked by Snow and outgoing Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who was grinning broadly. The President called him "a decent and talented man," and said, "I will always be grateful to him. I will always be proud to call him 'friend.' "

Snow will be an irreverent presence in a West Wing so formal that button-downs are considered declasse. When he was speechwriting director, Snow once was seen wearing overalls in the complex. (A gag gift someone gave his team, he says.) On the website for his radio show ("The Power of FOX. The Connections of Snow"), the "By Popular Demand" section has a link labeled "Tony Sings! Listen to Tony's, um, unique rendition of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song."

Democratic and liberal groups had a field day with past Snow comments that were critical of Bush, usually for not being sufficiently ideologically pure. A Center for American Progress headline captured the torrent of e-mail: "Tony Snow On President Bush: 'An Embarrassment,' "Impotent,' 'Doesn't Seem To Mean What He Says.'" The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out its quotes with the subject line, "WELCOME TONY SNOW!" and the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada sent out a similar list with the headline: "Tony Snow, We Have Some Questions For You."

The President tried to preempt such attacks with humor, saying, " For those of you who have read his columns and listened to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me. I asked him about those comments, and he said, 'You should have heard what I said about the other guy.'"

Talking to Hume, Snow did not back away from anything in particular, and tried out an easygoing but unyielding style. "There are probably a lot of people in the press room who from time to time say, I wish I hadn't written or said that," he said. "Here's the key. When I will be giving advice to the President, it will be my advice. And if I have differing opinions with some people, I will express them. But on the other hand, the job as press secretary is not to come in as a surrogate President and say what I believe matters, because frankly what matters is what the Administration has decided to do, and that I will express as forcefully as I possibly can." Snow was making it clear for now, no matter how different his style or background may be from his predecessors, he has the same ultimate boss — George W. Bush.