In an interesting reversal of tradition, a member of the media has left to become a
paid liar press secretary. Tony Snow, Fox News personality, is replacing Scott McClellan as White House press secretary. We're used to seeing government spokespeople becoming pundits; George Stephanopolous, Dee Dee Myers, Tony Blankley, Pete Williams, Chris Matthews, Hodding Carter and many others have made the transition from government PR flak to allegedly serious journalist or talking head. But this is the first time it's gone the other way.
Of course, since he works for Fox News, Snow has, for all practical purposes, already been a paid spokesman for the Bush administration anyway. So what will change? Not much. Snow is a lot more personable than McClellan. He's smarter, smoother, considerably more charming. But he'll still have to lie to the press, and the press will still faithfully report those lies without bothering to point out that they are lies. And the beat goes on...
I believe that Stephen Early was a Journalist before becoming Franklin Roosevelt and then Harry Truman's press sec.
Regardless, you had to figure Snow was gunning for the job with as much lying and misrepresentation of facts he's spouted out over the years. Media matters has a great list of some of these here and here and some fun questions for Mr Snow's frist day here.
Snow worked for Bush Senior as a speechwriter and media affairs deputy director, so he's come full circle.
Is it really a reversal of tradition? In the UK this sort of thing is very common. Blair's former spokesman and media strategist Alistair Campbell had been political editor of the Daily Mirror and Today (the defunct newspaper, not the radio show). Several of my colleagues have become press officers for banks and other organisations.
I can't believe nobody's yet made the obligatory "Snow job" pun. Or have they, and have I just missed it?
I predict lots of Snow jobs that are snow jobs.
Ginger Yellow - In the US at least, its usually the other way around. People who work as part of an administration usually go off and become pundits and commentators. I can't think of a case where someone has done this and then come back into the fold to work for another administration (if there has been one before, please correct me).
That said, I find it weird that they've made this change. What are they hoping to gain from it? Is Snow THAT much more credible with the press corpse than McClellan was? Do they really think that getting a commentator from Fox News will make the daily briefings more palatable? I have to say, I don't really understand the motivation for this change at all.
Snow is said to be much smoother than the one he replaces. I suspect the goal is not to appease the press corps (corpse? Good one!), but to get some choice quotes out to the faithful. Since the media are obligated to parrot any lie a government official gives them, the administration can use a good spokesman to reach out to the base that might be wavering.
I think the motivation is that since McClellan was caught red handed passing on the administration's lies about Plame (see Billmon's list of gaggle quotes here) the press corps has been much more confrontational during briefings. Relatively little of it has filtered through to the final articles, it's true, but the briefings look really bad with the press finally asking difficult questions and McClellan stonewalling badly using his handful of stock phrases. I think the idea is that a) the press corps will be less openly hostile, and b) Snow will be able to lie and stonewall more impressively than McClellan, like Fleischer used to.
Let us not forget that one celebrity who co-starred with a chimpanzee went on to become president.
Pierre Salinger, Jerald terHorst (a living typo if I ever saw one) and Larry Speakes all had journalism credentials before becoming presidential press secretaries. It does look like Snow may be the first to make the move from the boob tube to the west wing, as opposed to print media. (Bill Moyers did work in radio news for a short time, but Lady Bird Johnson owned the station so I don't know if that counts)
Pierre Salinger, Jerald terHorst (a living typo if I ever saw one) and Larry Speakes
As did Stephen Tyree Early.
Will anyone in the press corps ask Snow if he still thinks that Bush is an embarrasment, like he has said in past articles?
beervolcano... That already came up. Snow joked, "You should've heard what I said about the other guy!" Thus distancing himself from the one thing that would allow him to claim not to have been a de facto White House spokesman before now.
But this is the first time it's gone the other way.
Maybe for White House press secretaries, but I've seen it all the time locally. In fact, my immediate predecessor as a newscaster left the anchor desk to flak for a state senator, returned to radio, then departed to flak for a U.S. Senator. In my city, the mayor's PR person is a well-known former TV reporter. The same TV station's star reporter became a Democratic candidate's spokesperson for a few months, then returned to his old job.
Oh, and the PR guy for Republicans in my state legislature is a former TV reporter. His Democratic counterpart was, for a time, a prominent newspaper columnist.
News people becoming government flaks happens all too regularly, in my experience. Nothing wrong with that -- but they shouldn't expect to have any credibility if they want to go the other way.
Before he got a fit of good sense and had second thoughts, Ron Nessen briefly left NBC to be Gerald Ford's press secretary.
Reporting is generally a lot more fun that press secretarying (take it from someone who has done both). Also, the level of press spokesperson one usually wants at the White House requires either a great knowledge of media or deep political knowledge, and in reporters, that usually means a national network or major newspaper person who is making a lot more money in media, with fewer restrictions on having to pay for one's own lunch, than a press job can pay. Generally it's easier to climb the political side and make the leap to reporting than the other way around. Media will, on occasion, pay for political expertise. Politicians have pollsters who tell the politician that reporters are animals who all respond to the same stimuli, and since the pollsters charge more than the press secretary, the politician thinks the pollster knows more.
I think good editors know intelligence and fairness better than most high-level politicians. So someone like Tim Russert is recognized as a good guy by television producers, even though he worked for a politician.
We should worry about the Washington Times connection, though. Yeah, there are claims that Moon keeps his hands off the talent. I don't believe it. The Washington Times hires people who adhere to the party line, damn the facts. Snow isn't required to change any behaviors to do the bad, trust-destroying, public disservice job we fear, but expect.
Who worked with McClellan who got passed over? Watch for moves there. That could be interesting.
O'Reilly was talking about this today. Of course he was praising it. Then inevitably he went off about how the left-wing smear media is gearing up to tear Snow down, and how FOX news is the only fair and balanced organization out there and anyone that thinks FOX news is a right-wing news organization is wrong and stupid. I'd really like to punch that man in the teeth.
But like you said earlier, Ed, this is a job where people are paid to stand up and lie. My only hope is that Snow will at least be as smooth and entertaining as Ari Fleicher and Stefanopolis were. McClellan was just terrible. He always had that wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights look. He didn't speak forcefully or convincingly. He always came accross as very flustered. He was painful to watch.