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Why Bush Chose Tony Snow as His New Spokesman

5 minute read
Mike Allen/Washington

The White House plans to announce Wednesday morning that Tony Snow, the conservative commentator and Fox News host, will succeed Scott McClellan as White House press secretary, according to a senior administration official and an official close to Snow.

Snow has talked to President Bush and was assured he will have “a seat at the table and all the access he wants and needs, including walk-in privileges and all that,” the official said. The official said McClellan plans to “warmly welcome” Snow and be “very helpful” to him in the transition. McClellan, nearing three years at the podium, said when he announced his resignation last week that he would stay on for two or three weeks’ work with his successor.

The official said Josh Bolten — who has carried out a swift White House makeover since taking over as chief of staff on the afternoon of April 14 — and Counselor Dan Bartlett view the selection of Snow as a key part of giving a new wind to a White House that has suffered repeated seatbacks. “They need a big name to turn heads and send a message to the press that we care enough to put a big player here who cares enough about this job to give up a lot to take it,” the official said.

Snow, 50, had his colon removed when he was diagnosed with cancer last year and left his weekday radio show and weekend television show to undergo chemotherapy. But his oncologist approved him to take the grueling White House post, joking that the job wouldn’t give him cancer, although it might give him heartburn, according to a friend of Snow.

The official said Snow is elated and honored, and feels like he is coming home again since he served President George H.W. Bush as director of speechwriting and deputy director of media affairs.

Snow has occasionally been critical of the President, and liberal groups began gleefully circulating nettlesome quotes to reporters on Tuesday. Media Matters for America put together a cheeky “Suggested questions for the White House press corps to ask on Tony Snow’s first day.” A column by Snow last September, at the height of the Hurricane Katrina fallout, said: “Begin with the wimp factor. No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to defending presidential powers and prerogatives…. His presidential report card already shows an A’ on foreign policy, but with the exceptions of tax policy and judicial selections, he remains a domestic-policy cipher. It’s now up to him to decide whether he will complete his term by earning an A, an F or an incomplete.”

Snow is host of The Tony Snow Show on Fox News Radio, and his web site urges listeners to join the radio revolution by supporting him. He also is a host of Weekend Live on Fox News Channel, and was the first host of Fox News Sunday, from 1996 to 2003. That program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week.

In a series of on-air appearances since news leaked that he was being considered for the job, Snow made it clear he was contemplating the job, and even hinted that he would take it. Asked about it one day on his show, he said with a laugh, I’m being deliberately coy. If nothing else, it’s good practice. Snow said on The O’Reilly Factor that he was concerned about the loss of family time and the massive cut in pay.

The upside is that for somebody like me who’s been a pundit for many years, you sit around and you think about the way the world should be, Snow continued. You become part of something that’s very rare, which is an inner White House circle, where you’ve got to make decisions… So there is something that has a sort of perverse attraction, which is it’s a meaty, substantive job with real responsibilities.

His Fox News bio notes that he plays flute, alto flute, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax and guitar. He has worked as an advocate for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled in North Carolina, taught physics and East African geography in Kenya, and has been a substitute teacher in subjects ranging from calculus to seventh-grade art.

Robert Anthony Snow was born in Berea, Ky., and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 1977 from Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. He did graduate work in philosophy and economics at the University of Chicago. He was born June 1, 1955. He and his wife, Jill, married in 1987, have three children and lots of pets. They live in Fairfax County and have a weekend house on the Eastern Shore.

Here are his career highlights, from a White House biography released when he worked in the George H.W. Bush administration: He began his journalism career as an editorial writer at the Greensboro Record in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979, then was an editorial writer at the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk from 1981-82, editorial page editor of the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., from 1982-84, deputy editorial page editor of the Detroit News, which at the time was known for having one of the most conservative editorial pages of any metropolitan dailies in the country, from 1984-87; then became editorial page editor of the Washington Times, which received local, regional and national awards under his leadership.

Snow was named Deputy Assistant to the President for Communications and Speechwriting in 1991, and Deputy Assistant to the President for Media Affairs in 1992. His syndicated column has appeared in newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Now that Snow is leaving what the President has called “the punditry,” he will be making news instead of reporting it.

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