February 23, 2019


Three challenges face Tony Snow as he takes over as White House press secretary, making it a particularly tough assignment.

First, he must get along with the White House press corps, which has always been a pampered elite group, vying for attention in the televised daily press briefings and occasional news conferences.

Some of the correspondents’ questions are softballs. These can be merely “Hello, Mama” queries to impress relatives or bosses. Or they can be planted questions, as by a notorious impostor hired by the White House.

Mostly, though, the questions are serious, often biting or provocative. Some of these, unfortunately, reflect a bad lesson learned from the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal, that bringing down a president can be a ticket to career success or maybe a Pulitzer Prize.

He must bridge the gap between the often-clamorous press corps and a disciplined and unusually secretive White House that wants to put out its own story in its own way.

Mr. Snow’s second problem is his own career: How to serve the two conflicting masters in the final years of the Bush administration and still preserve the broad respect and good nature that made him a star of FOX News. He probably will want to return to FOX or some other part of the news business and can’t be considered damaged goods.

Finally, he has the problem of defending an administration that has lost popularity and has developed problems of its own. After four years of remarkable coherence and loyalty, the administration now faces mounting divisions to the seemingly endless war in Iraq and anxiety over whether it will order a new preemptive military strike against Iran or North Korea.

As often happens in presidential second terms, people are leaving the ship, remaining officials are jockeying for position, memoirs are being planned or written, and people are pointing fingers of blame for things that went wrong.

Life was so much simpler when Franklin D. Roosevelt would chat off-the-record with a half-dozen or so correspondents gathered around his desk and when Dwight D. Eisenhower would hold a press conference in the Indian Treaty Room and no one would quote him until Jim Haggerty had approved a written transcript that left out anything regarded as awkward or dangerous for the public to see.

The White House story has long since turned into a carefully programmed TV show. That show, with the leaks that, for better or worse, fill in some of the omissions, is now Mr. Snow’s concern. He will need a good head, an honest heart and a quick wit to cope with it all.

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