The White House press corps is a temperamental group, and by the spring of 2006 its collective attitude towards the Administration of George W. Bush was, at best, one of hostility. The problem wasn't the Administration's policies objectivity is still very much the goal but the way those policies were expressed. Part of the problem had been Bush's two unsuccessful press secretaries: his first, Ari Fleischer, had proven capable but combative and condescending; his second, Scott McClellan, had been inadvertently caught up in misleading the press about the White House leak of the identity of a CIA officer.
It took a particular kind of character to walk into that environment and attempt to turn it around. It's hard to imagine anyone could have done it better than Tony Snow, who died early Saturday after a second battle with colon cancer.
Snow was unabashed in his defense of the Administration but managed to be respectful, even helpful, to the reporters on the beat. His experience as a Fox News broadcaster and radio personality was obvious; his quick wit and verbal dexterity made him fun to spar with, but his precision with language, and with the complicated details of policy, made him remarkably effective. But the clincher for a skeptical media was his disarming honesty. When he didn't know an answer, he said the rarest words in Washington "I don't know." When he made a mistake he made a point of admitting it.
Snow made more than some of his predecessors, but he made up for them by knowing more, too. If his frankness contrasted with Fleischer's obstinacy, his access contrasted with McClellan's lack of it. Snow quickly became close to Bush and his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and knew the Administration's thinking on key issues, even if he didn't always share his knowledge in its entirety.
"It was a joy to watch Tony at the podium each day," said President Bush in a statement Saturday morning. "He brought wit grace, and a great love of country to his work. His colleagues will cherish memories of his energetic personality and relentless good humor." the President said.
Snow was first diagnosed with colon cancer in February 2005. His colon was removed, and after six months of treatment, doctors said the cancer was in remission. Eleven months after he accepted the White House job, he had a recurrence and was forced to undergo five weeks of treatment. When he returned to the podium noticeably gaunter, but still game he was greeted with applause.
"Not everybody will survive cancer," Snow told reporters then, "but on the other hand, you have got to realize you've got the gift of life, so make the most of it. That is my view, and I'm going to make the most of my time with you."