- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

President Bush yesterday named Fox News host Tony Snow as his new White House press secretary, a move geared toward shoring up relations with the Washington press corps and breathing new life into a sixth-year administration that is dropping in the polls.

Mr. Snow, 50, a journalist, writer and political pundit who was the editorial page editor of The Washington Times during the administration of the president’s father, took the job after insisting that he be not just a spokesman, but a participant in administration policy debates.

Yet Mr. Bush, in introducing Mr. Snow to reporters gathered in the White House briefing room yesterday, made clear the chain of command.

“My job is to make decisions, and his job is to help explain those decisions to the press corps and the American people,” the president said, with a smiling Mr. Snow next to him.

Mr. Snow displayed his knack for ad-libbing — a trait not often exhibited by his predecessor, Scott McClellan — by speaking after the president without a prepared speech or notes.

“One of the things I want to do is just make it clear that … one of the reasons I took the job is not only because I believe in the president, [but] because, believe it or not, I want to work with you,” he said to mild laughter from the reporters who will badger him daily for information.

“These are times that are going to be very challenging. We’ve got a lot of big issues ahead, and we’ve got a lot of important things that all of us are going to be covering together. … I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the honor, and thank all you guys for your forbearance.”

Although Mr. Snow was widely speculated to be the choice for more than a week — he is a longtime friend of new Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten — his decision to take the post was delayed briefly by health concerns. He had his colon removed last year and underwent six months of chemotherapy. But he had a CT scan last week and has a clean bill of health.

Mr. Snow is well-regarded among reporters in Washington, having worked in newspapers, television and radio. He has criticized the Bush administration as a political commentator and nationally syndicated columnist, which prompted the president to offer a humorous read.

“For those of you who have read his columns and listened to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me,” Mr. Bush said. “I asked him about those comments, and he said, ‘You should have heard what I said about the other guy.’”

In a jab at reporters, Mr. Bush joked, “Tony already knows most of you, and he’s agreed to take the job anyway.”

Democrats immediately deluged White House reporters with e-mails cataloging some of what Mr. Snow has said about the Bush administration. In one, Democrats cited a Nov. 11 column after Democratic electoral gains in which he wrote that “George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.”

In a piece from September, Mr. Snow said, “No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to defending presidential powers.”

Other e-mails fired out to reporters by Democrats cited columns in which the new spokesman said “racism isn’t that big a deal anymore” and called the theory of evolution “pure hypothesis.”

Although the newly named spokesman did not explain his earlier criticisms yesterday, one former administration official said he expects Mr. Snow to lay down a marker the first day he takes the podium.

“I expect he will say that he will not talk about his opinion — or prior opinion — because he is now the president’s spokesman. If he sticks to that, the issue will disappear fairly quickly,” the former aide said.

Mr. Snow will start May 8, but said yesterday that he won’t conduct his first briefing until later that week to give him time to learn the job.

“You know how to talk, but you don’t know how to brief. You’ve got to learn this stuff,” he told reporters yesterday morning as he walked through the briefing room to introduce himself. He apologized to several reporters whose phone calls and e-mails he had not returned as he pondered whether to take the job. Mr. Snow demurred when asked how he will be different from Mr. McClellan.

“Just watch and see. I hate to be coy about it, but I’m going to be coy,” he said.

“You’re not coming here to drink the Kool-Aid; you’re coming here to serve the president,” he said.

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