- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

Former talk show host Tony Snow took over as President Bush’s communications point man four months ago, beefing up the press office staff, honing internal operations and deploying a quick-response strategy.

Now, polls show, the president’s approval rating has jumped to its highest level since January.

Could Mr. Snow be responsible for the surge?

“We’re just busy going out and trying to be as aggressive as we can in getting the message out,” Mr. Snow says. “Part of the challenge is to explain what we are doing and why. … Sometimes you have to let people know very clearly what the policy is and that is one of our key aims.”

The operation has changed dramatically in recent months after crucial missteps, including last year’s dead-on-arrival nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and this year’s fiasco over the proposal to allow a company based in the United Arab Emirates to manage U.S. port operations.

Joshua B. Bolten took over as chief of staff and immediately brought in Mr. Snow, a longtime friend and confidant. Since then, the pair have been at the head of efforts to refocus the White House message and the way it is disseminated.

“If there is an operative philosophy for me, it’s ‘flood the zone,’” says Mr. Snow, using a football term to describe overwhelming the opponent. “If we spin you,” he told reporters at a hotel near the White House yesterday, “we die.”

Even though he says he was “absolutely scared stiff because I didn’t know what to expect, I’d never done anything like it,” Mr. Snow says he has fallen in love with the job he has performed since May.

“The most pleasant surprise about this job has been how much fun it is,” he says. “I’ve never had a day when I’ve gone home and kicked the dog out of frustration. … I can’t think of another job that I would willingly wake up as early as I do for” — 3:45 a.m. on some days.

But since he took over as the chief White House spokesman, the former television and radio host — who also once wrote editorials for The Washington Times — has learned to use the skills he picked up in his 28 years in journalism.

“The press secretary’s job is a reporting job,” he says, noting that, even with an office right down the hall from the president, he spends a lot of his day calling others in the administration, asking, “What’s going on here?”

“And sometimes phone calls are not returned as quickly as you want,” he told the reporters, who laughed, knowing that plight well.

As for standing at the podium on behalf of the most powerful man in the United States, Mr. Snow says “there are a lot of days when I come in and I’ve got to study for the exam.” Some reporters have complained that their former colleague doesn’t always know the answer to tough questions, and he acknowledged that “the biggest challenge is … just trying to make sure that you know enough about the things that are going to be of interest to reporters.”

Mr. Snow has direct access to his boss. If he needs to know something, he says, “I’ll walk into the Oval Office and get it straight from the president.”

Mr. Snow sits in on policy discussions with Cabinet members and senior staff. He says views are expressed in frank exchanges, although the president has the job of “making the call at the end of the day.”

“There are areas where I have built up a certain amount of intellectual capital and I certainly put up my 2 cents’ worth. You have an obligation to give your best advice, and if you lose, you lose,” he says. “Nobody elected you; they elected the president. But I think it is incumbent upon people to give their best and most honest advice.”

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