Snow offers media early olive branch

Bush spokesman will `work with' reporters

April 27, 2006|By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS | JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- It will be two weeks before Tony Snow, the conservative radio host President Bush named yesterday to be his new press secretary, officially becomes the public face of the administration.

But Snow, a former White House speechwriter and Fox News broadcaster, started the first task in his daunting new job right away. Wandering back to the dingy briefing room where correspondents had just heard official news of his hiring, Snow chatted and joked with reporters, quietly kicking off a charm offensive designed to show that he is not a Bush drone.

"You're not coming here to drink the Kool-Aid; you're here to serve the president," Snow said, describing his new job to journalists who had gathered to catch his surprise appearance, off-camera and away from the spokesman's podium.

For a president working to restore his sagging popularity, however, the addition of a fresh face to the White House team - not to mention one who is a pundit who has bashed Bush in recent writings - was a message in itself.

"Believe it or not, I want to work with you," Snow had told reporters minutes earlier. Appearing at ease before the TV cameras, he stood next to Bush and current spokesman Scott McClellan, then retreated with them without taking questions.

Snow, 50, is unlikely to change the president's tight-lipped approach. But he is working to improve the image of a president often criticized for appearing to be isolated from the public's concerns. The first talking point for that strategy is Snow himself.

"This is not the Bush-in-the-bunker of the cliches of the last year or so," said James P. Pinkerton, a conservative columnist who recruited Snow to work in the first Bush White House. Hiring a sometime critic from outside his inner circle is, for Bush, "daring and kind of risky," he said.

If McClellan personified what Republican strategists call the president's biggest problems - his inability to explain his policies, his reluctance to invite seasoned outsiders into his inner circle and his relentlessly upbeat message in the face of bad news, especially from Iraq - White House aides hope Snow can reflect just the opposite.

Snow, who spent seven years as Fox's Sunday morning news host, is steady and sunny on camera, and he has plenty of practice in the public thrust-and-parry of policy debates that are the daily diet of a White House press secretary.

On a team full of Bush loyalists, Snow - despite his staunch conservatism and past service as a speechwriter for George H. W. Bush - passes for an outsider, a status underlined by recent columns he has written calling the president "something of an embarrassment" and branding his domestic agenda "listless."

"He's not afraid to express his own opinions," Bush said. "I like the perspective he brings to this job, and I think you're going to like it, too,"

Snow's selection was the latest move in a weeks-long White House reshuffling designed to rejuvenate Bush's team and boost his popularity.

It is also part of a concerted effort by Bush to address the challenge of regaining the confidence of his base in time to bolster Republicans' chances in the November elections. Snow is one of a handful of conservative media figures who are beloved among Bush's core supporters.

Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia, a leading conservative with presidential aspirations, said Snow would "bring the pulse of the American people into the White House." In a Fox interview, Allen compared Snow with radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, who he said "understand what's going on in the real world."

Liberals wary

The choice was criticized by liberal activists, who said that Snow, because of his background in conservative media, is unlikely to bring the sort of openness and candor that has been lacking at the White House.

Snow's hiring "will do little to change the perception that the White House is more interested in stonewalling and deception than in getting the facts out," David Brock of Media Matters for America said in a statement.

Snow, still sounding wonderstruck about his new post in a brief interview yesterday, said his immediate goal is to improve press relations at the White House.

"The polls are going to come and go. I think what a press secretary can do is work with the press and to forge better relations with reporters," Snow said. "It's not like I'm going to come in and fix everything, and be everybody's best friend, but I want to get to know" the White House press corps.

Snow expects to share his frank opinions with Bush, he told reporters, though "probably not in those exact words."

"I think the president is somebody who's going to welcome all points of view around the table," Snow said in the interview.

Former columnist

Before joining Fox, Snow, who was born in Kentucky and raised in Cincinnati, spent much of his career as a columnist except for his two years as a speechwriter and then media adviser to the elder Bush.

A father of three, Snow survived colon cancer last year.

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