Naming Tony Snow press secretary is President Bush’s most promising decision since Hurricane Katrina winded him nearly seven months ago. The president should let the veteran commentator craft and disseminate the administration’s message in clever and concrete ways, as the capable Snow can do.
Snow approaches his position with something that outgoing press secretary Scott McClellan lacks: the ability to communicate. McClellan, surely a nice man who loves his country and his family, looks pained and frightened at his briefings. Sniffing blood in the water, reporters chomp into him like sharks devouring a walrus. This leaves McClellan with little to do but meekly repeat his lame talking points. My contacts among the president’s conservative base uniformly pity his performance. I shudder to imagine how much McClellan’s haplessness has weakened America’s image overseas during wartime.
Snow, in contrast, has spent 27 years in print, TV and radio journalism. He is telegenic, charismatic, sharp, quick and simultaneously tough and affable. In an administration that seems unable to explain its direction, Snow easily can defend the president’s agenda, and even actively promote it.
Snow has the wits and wherewithal to redefine this position. Here are a few ways he could build a better press office:
_ Showcase the media’s shortcomings. Snow should not be the press’ errand boy. While he should provide journalists with information for their pieces, he also should remind them daily what they are missing and strongly persuade them to cover details and entire stories they neglect.
_ Correct journalists’ mistakes. Snow should approach each day like a professor reviewing his students’ homework. “Terry Moran, here are three glaring errors in the first 15 seconds of your latest ABC News report,” Snow might say. “Let me try to help you.” _ In a new feature called “Here’s What You Missed,” Snow should present TV footage the media actively ignore. For example, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld withstood withering heat in December 2004 after telling a GI in Kuwait, who wanted more armored Humvees, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.” Critics called Rumsfeld mean and callous.
Unlike columnist Rich Lowry, alas, most journalists neglected to report that Rumsfeld also said, “The goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops.” Rumsfeld added: “The other day … I looked outside the Pentagon and there were six or eight up-armored Humvees. They’re not there anymore. They’re en route out here.” Soldiers cheered.
Showcasing such complete remarks and publicly handing journalists DVDs of corresponding video will make it harder for liberal reporters to spread half-truths by feigning ignorance of inconvenient facts.
_ Don’t leak; speak. Bush’s mistake in partially declassifying intelligence data was his failure to use them to explain Operation Iraqi Freedom. He erred by leaking this information to The New York Times’ Judith Miller rather than announcing it to the entire country. Snow should argue for sunshine rather than narrowly tailored points of light.
_ Stop helping media foes. The New York Times does not deserve leaks, exclusives or anything beyond its subscription fees. Leaking to the Times, America’s most obsessively anti-Bush major newspaper, is like handing one’s bitterest critic a loaded gun and awaiting good news. Bush also let the Times publish his exclusive August 2001 op-ed on stem cells. Why?
Times reporters are not royalty. Let them eat news releases.
_ Cultivate friendly media outlets. Share exclusive interviews, presidential essays, and special news alerts with sympathetic and fair journalists.
Bush’s next article should appear on The Wall Street Journal editorial page. Make New York Times reporters gnash their teeth as they quote from the president’s exclusive interview with New York Post correspondent Deborah Orin. Chuckle as incoming CBS newsreader Katie Couric airs footage of the president’s tete-a-tete with Fox News Channel’s Wendell Goler. By favoring the center-right media, the president will enhance their prestige while the anti-Bush establishment media play catch-up.
Bush would serve himself well by letting Tony Snow _ a man who has spent decades expressing solid, conservative beliefs _ display his talents and instincts at full throttle. The president can harness this fine appointee best by letting Snow be Snow.
(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)