Thursday, April 27, 2006

How will Tony Snow work out?

I've got a question for those in the know: How do you think this Tony Snow thing is going to work out? It seems to me that there are a couple of problems inherent with his becoming the press secretary.

First off, he's made his living for the past few years giving his opinion on public policy, and some of his opinions are apparently in marked contrast to those for which he is going to have to be the front man. This has historically not been a problem with press secretaries. Maybe Scott McClellan or Ari Fleischer could go home, knock back a couple of drinks and complain to the wife that Policy A that he had to talk up today is about the stupidest thing he ever heard, but nobody in the press corps knew that. In Tony Snow's case, they will. Maybe nobody will holler out "Hey, Tony, do you still think that racism is 'no big deal' like you said a couple of years ago?" or "Yo, Tony! Six months ago you said that Policy A was cowardly and counterproductive, and now you're telling us it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. What gives?" But at the very least, nobody's going to have to guess whether the guy is bullshitting them or not, and it would seem to me this is going to have to have an effect on his credibility and how his pronouncements are received.

The other thing is that Tony Snow, far more than most past press secretaries, has a bigger and more attractive media presence than his boss. Press secretaries are by profession mouthpieces for somebody else, and tend to be stolid unflashy types--second bananas--who act as spokesmen for the President and his policies, which are supposed to be the main event. (Though they're not always without personality, that's for sure. Remember Ron Ziegler, Nixon's press secretary?) I wonder whether at some point the press briefings will seem more like the Tony Snow Show than occasions at which we're hearing the pronouncements of a president. In other words, will Snow himself get in the way of the message and willy-nilly upstage the president? Imagine the old Tonight Show, except with Johnny Carson the sidekick to Ed McMahon. During the first few minutes of banter before any guests appeared, it would be pretty obvious to the audience that the wrong guy is sitting behind the desk, and they'd much rather be listening to the fellow whose main job is to intone "Heeeeeere's Ed!"

But maybe it doesn't work like that. What do the Wise Old Fraysters think?

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His past policy differences with Bush...

won't matter much beyond some early sniping at him about it, mostly be columnists and bloggers, not reporters.

But his career as a "top banana" in the limelight, albeit on a smaller stage than the White House, could mean that he's not cut out for this work. I worked as a press secretary (as well as a campaign manager) for various candidates and public offcials (all Democrats). A press spokesperson needs first and foremost not to be the story...just the transmitter of the story. Even when you're on camera, and despite the fact that lots of people get to know who the White House press Secretary is, it's vital that you come off as nothing more or less than the "spokesperson."

I doubt that anyone who has tasted the tinsel in his own right can even affect, much less feel, the requisite humility and act in the appropriately impersonal but professional way. The temptation to be a player will be overwhelming.

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