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Slate's Politics: Snow Takes Bush Spokesman Job


There's a new public face of the White House. The new press secretary is Tony Snow. He's a long time Washington insider and conservative columnist and commentator on FOX News. Snow replaces Scott McClellan, and has a much different temperament. In his column, Snow has been outspoken. He once called President Bush something of an embarrassment, and another time said the president had a listless domestic policy. Today, President Bush brushed aside those comments.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: He's not afraid to express his own opinions. For those of you who've read his columns and listen to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me. I asked him about those comments, and he said you should have heard what I said about the other guy.

BRAND: Joining us to talk about the appointment is John Dickerson. He's Chief Political Correspondent for the on line magazine Slate. And welcome back to DAY TO DAY, John.

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate Magazine): Thank you.

BRAND: So as the president just acknowledged, Snow has not exactly been quiet in his critiques of the White House. So what does this say about what the White House now wants to portray as its message?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, I think it demonstrates recognition by the White House that they've got to improve their press relations and that they've got to become a little bit more candid. By picking Tony Snow, they've picked a journalist who has at least some understanding of the commerce between journalists, although he was an opinion journalist most recently. And it recognizes on the part of the White House that they can't sort of keep giving the same old line. We shouldn't expect Tony Snow to come out with those same kind of frank assessments from the podium, but it is an effort from the White House to show that they might be getting a little more candid.

BRAND: Well why would Tony Snow want this job? This comes at a time when the President is facing his lowest approval rating, something around 32 percent. And problems with Iraq, high gas prices, the immigration quandary. Why would anyone want to take on this job?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, it's hard to turn down a president when a president asks you to join the team. And there's something noble in sort of rushing into a burning building. And I think Tony Snow could easily have seen this as a chance to sort of try to rescue the White House, and was undoubtedly given promises that things were going to change. That he was going to have access that previous press secretary's did not have, and that he would be able to use that access as power in that position. And so, perhaps with those new tools he could make something of that job that the previous two press secretary's were not able to do.

BRAND: And John, I'm wondering if that alarmed some critics of the White House in that Tony Snow is obviously a partisan. He's a, he's a, he's a commentator on the right.

Mr. DICKERSON: It's a little silly to attack Snow for being a partisan on the right. The White House is going to have partisans in those jobs. Snow, however, at least knows about the commerce between journalists and sources, which means when he talks to journalists covering the White House, he won't be able to give them the sort of same old line, because they will be able to say well, you know, remember what you thought of that line coming out of this White House before you got this job.

BRAND: Thank you John.

Mr. DICKERSON: Okay, thank you.

BRAND: John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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