Bush hopes to pull a Snow job on the press

President Bush gave his presidency a facelift Wednesday, tapping a smooth-talking, telegenic conservative commentator as the new White House press secretary.

The appointment of Fox News pundit Tony Snow as Bush’s third chief spokesman was intended in part to help improve the White House’s frayed relationship with the press corps. Bush paired the announcement of his choice with some friendly jabs at reporters, and a serving of respect for their craft.

“Tony already knows most of you, and he’s agreed to take the job anyway,” the president said, Snow laughing at his side in the briefing room where he will start holding court in about two weeks. “He understands like I understand that the press is vital to our democracy.”

Snow, a 50-year-old Ohio native, plans to take over from current press secretary Scott McClellan the week of May 8. He will hold off conducting the daily press briefings for several days while the two overlap.

The choice of Snow was also part of a White House effort _ under the leadership of new chief of staff Joshua Bolten and with Bush at his lowest-ever approval ratings _ to reach out to conservatives who made up the base of support for Bush’s two presidential victories but have been disaffected by government spending and other issues.

Democrats, though, seized on remarks and writings Snow has produced in nearly 25 years in the media that have been critical of Bush, and often provocative. Snow held several print journalism positions, mostly working for newspaper opinion pages, and lately has been the host of the “Tony Snow Show” on Fox News Radio and “Weekend Live with Tony Snow” on the Fox News Channel.

Though usually aggressively supportive of the president as a GOP pundit, Snow has also shown a confrontational side. In a syndicated column, for instance, Snow has called the president “something of an embarrassment,” a leader who has “lost control of the federal budget,” the architect of a “listless domestic policy” and a man who has “a habit of singing from the political correctness hymnal.”

The Democratic National Committee said Snow’s appointment shows “truth still snowed in” in the Bush administration.

The White House _ led by Bush _ said Snow’s candor and colorful talk will be an asset, not a liability.

“I asked him about those comments, and he said, `You should have heard what I said about the other guy,'” the president said. “I like his perspective, I like the perspective he brings to this job, and I think you’re going to like it, too.”

Snow, who took a hiatus from the media in the late 1990s to work in the White House under Bush’s father as a speechwriting director and spokesman for regional issues, spoke only briefly. Neither he nor Bush took questions, though he later told The Associated Press he hasn’t yet determined what changes would make the White House press operation work better. “I’m still trying to figure it out,” he said.

Snow had been openly interested in acquiring a role in developing White House policy _ not just talking about it. But Wednesday, he told Fox News Channel, his soon-to-be ex-employer, that “I’m just going to have to wait and see” whether that will come to pass.

Earlier, to reporters in the briefing room, Snow said: “Believe it or not, I want to work with you. … We’ve got a lot of big issues ahead and we’ve got a lot of important things that all of us are going to be covering together.”

Snow had delayed a decision about taking the job to consult with his family _ he and his wife have three young children _ and his doctors _ he had his colon removed last year and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer. But his detailed on-air deliberations over recent days raised eyebrows among White House staff who are normally tightlipped and loath to run afoul of Bush’s dislike for any public airing of internal thinking.

Bush seemed unaffected. He concluded his introduction of Snow by calling him “buddy.”

© 2006 The Associated Press