Tall, telegenic, affable Tony Snow first took the podium in the James S. Brady briefing room on May 16, 2006. Looking out upon the foregathered carnivorous White House press corps he opened the proceedings with this bit of wry humor, "I feel so loved."
It was that sense of humor and much more that marked his tenure as White House press secretary. President Bush announced the new appointment on April 26, 2006 with his own bit of wit:
"Tony already knows most of you and he's agreed to take the job anyway,"
As for their respective duties:
"My job is to make decisions and his job is to explain those decisions to the press corps and the American people."
The president then summarized Tony's decades of experience in print, radio and television journalism that began in 1979 when he was an editorial writer for the Greensboro (NC) Record. He had already served in the White House as Bush senior's director of speechwriting. Prior to the new assignment Tony hosted his own show on FOX News Radio and Weekend Live on the FOX News Channel.
Closing out his introductory remarks President Bush said:
"He's not afraid to express his own opinions. 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." I like his perspective, I like the perspective he brings to this job, and I think you're going to like it, too.
In his first briefing, Tony Snow exhibited the qualities that would stand him in good stead during the ensuing weeks and months. The AP's Terence Hunt, perhaps wanting to test the new guy's mettle, tried that classic reportorial gambit, the non-question containing a false premise. He confronted Tony about the president's "back-handed confirmation" of a USA Today story about National Security Agency terrorist surveillance techniques, specifically, allegations that the NSA was compiling lists of private phone numbers.
Hunt was getting up a head of steam when Tony jumped right in and told Terry "No, he (the president) wasn't giving any kind of confirmation," and that if "you go back to the answer he gave you (at a previous presser), he was talking about foreign-to-domestic calls..."
And so the verbal fencing match continued on that topic and many others: thrust, parry, riposte. Tony Snow proved himself to be a very adroit swordsman possessing a sharp wit, keen intelligence and well-honed knowledge on a broad array of topics.
But most of all, he was armored with abundant patience as he tried again and again at every press briefing to explain policy issues and his boss's words to an obstreperous, some might say arrogant, often hostile press corps. He was unfailingly honest and forthright and being a true gentleman, even apologized when such an act was not necessary -- as in the aftermath of his encounter with NBC's David Gregory during a December 6, 2006 briefing. The petulant Gregory launched into a Democrat talking point characterization of the Baker-Hamilton Commission report on Iraq, which quickly developed into a heated exchange with Tony Snow. At one point, Gregory asked "Are you suggesting that I'm trying to frame this in a partisan way?" Tony gave the obvious answer, "Yes."
But in the December 14 briefing, the honorable Mr. Snow, following the dictates of his strict code of conduct, apologized to Gregory "because it is the right thing to do," saying,
"If I expect you to do right by us, you have every right to expect that I'll do right by you."
At least Tony held up his end of the bargain.
In that first encounter with the White House press corps Tony spoke freely about his bout with colon cancer, the same type that killed his dear mother when he was 17, how it made him appreciate the doctors, the health care system, the technology that allowed him to be at the podium. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he explained, adding; "I feel every day is a blessing."
A reporter asked him about his new job and Tony replied;
"I don't see it as a personal sacrifice to answer a call from the President of the United States to come and serve, I consider it an honor. That still gives me chills. I go out at the end of that lawn, I look back the pillars, and think, man, I'm working here. I don't know if you ever do this, but if you don't, I suggest you do. It's an astounding thing. And whatever the citizens and you may feel about your particular state in life, this is a very special place to work."
At the end of it came this question: "What are your final thoughts on your first day?" to which Tony replied, "I love it. This is great. Thank you."
Allow me here to interject some words of wisdom offered by Tony Snow to the Catholic University of America graduating class on May 12, 2007, because I believe they are relevant and tell us about the character of this man. He told the seniors that, to "live boldly, to live a whole life," they need to
1. Think; use your brains.
2. Take risks; don't be content with what you know.
3. Commit to God. Faith is as natural as the air we breathe. Religion is the introduction to the ultimate extreme sport.
4. Get out and experience life. Get your fingernails dirty... and laugh, a lot, at yourselves. ..the pain, the poignancy, the aches are essential; they bring us together.
5. Love. It is everything...to love is to acknowledge that life is not about you...to submit willingly, heart & soul, to things that matter. Think not only of what it means to love but what it means to be loved. I have a lot of experience with that. Since the news that I have cancer again, I have heard from thousands and thousands of people and I have been the subject of untold prayers. I'm telling you right now: You're young [and you feel] bullet-proof and invincible. [But] never underestimate the power of other people's love and prayer. They have incredible power. It's as if I've been carried on the shoulders of an entire army. And they had made me weightless.
Tony Snow loved being press secretary and we loved and appreciated him doing that job as a man of honor and integrity, wit and intelligence, enthusiasm andempathy, modesty and personal heroism, anchored in his faith and love of family. John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.
Which makes not just a great spokesman for a president, but a great spokesman for what we hold dear.