- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

Tony Snow yesterday held his first informal briefing with reporters as the new White House press secretary, inviting a pack of journalists into his office for the early morning “gaggle.”

The spacious West Wing room quickly became overheated with bloviating bodies.

“Louder! We can’t hear!” yelled one of the dozen reporters left out in the hall, unable to wedge into the standing-room-only office, where some 50 reporters had packed in.

“This is ridiculous,” moaned another outcast.

“I had this wonderful idea that this would be nice and collegial and relaxed,” said a smiling Mr. Snow, seated behind his large desk, his shirtsleeves rolled up and a sheaf of papers in one hand.

“But it obviously, at this point, is just a mess,” the reporter-turned-flack said to laughter from his new adversaries.

“So rather than doing that, we will go back to gaggling in the briefing room, and then, as numbers dwindle, we may think of bringing it back here.”

One day on the job, one change on the fly.

“I’m naive. What can I say?” he said as reporters milled out.

As the press hurled questions at him, he was frank — and unapologetic.

“I do not know,” he said to one query. “I don’t want to mislead you on that. I don’t know.”

When veteran gadfly Helen Thomas asked about a secret spy program, Mr. Snow said firmly: “Honestly, I can’t answer the question.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know enough about it,” Mr. Snow said emphatically.

The throng of reporters was already irked when they piled into his office. The gaggle had been scheduled for 9 a.m., but rescheduled at the last minute for 9:30 a.m. Mr. Snow actually started the gaggle at 9:17 a.m.

“I walk in at 9:20 a.m.,” said one clock-conscious reporter, “and it’s already well underway.” Looking directly into the reporter’s eyes, Mr. Snow said: “I apologize, period. … That’s just flat my fault. … You’ve got to give me a little forbearance.”

As the self-described “new kid on the block,” he did fall back on talking points: “I hate to read from a sheet of paper, but. …” At another point, he called on one of his deputies because he said she had “a better brief on that.”

The new spokesman also played coy. Asked if President Bush’s national address Monday on immigration would contain new language, he said: “There will be, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”

Reporters laughed.

But his humility was evident throughout the 23-minute trial run, for which the spokesman began preparing shortly after his 5:45 a.m. arrival. He wore a pass on a strap around his neck, not the typical “hard pin” that identifies the administration’s VIPs. Asked why he had skipped the pin, he said sheepishly: “I don’t want to lose it on my first day.”

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