By: Joe Strupp
Editors here for the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference, including two Washington, D.C., bureau chiefs, had mixed reactions to the appointment of FOX News commentator Tony Snow as President Bush’s new press secretary.
Some said Snow’s background in news can help smooth over tense press relations, while others saw him as just another “mouthpiece.”
Snow, a former speech writer for Bush’s father and a longtime conservative commentator, will have to gain greater access to the president than his predecessor Scott McClellan, editors said, if he is to improve a White House-press relationship that has been strained.
“It is a plus that he has been a member of the working press on the other side,” said Andrew Alexander, Washington bureau chief for Cox Newspapers. “That is important. He may have an appreciation of reporters. He also has a plus coming from the White House of Bush 41, so there is no that much of a learning curve.”
But Alexander stressed that no improvement in press relations will be made if Snow is put under the same informational restrictions as McClellan: “My suspicion is he will have to do what McClellan did.”
David Westphal, the McClatchy D.C. bureau chief who will soon take over the Knight Ridder bureau when the two companies merge, called the Snow pick “an interesting choice. …The question is, will he be given information and a wider portfolio to know what is going on? That will be the question.”
But Westphal agreed Snow’s editorial background can help. “I would think it would give him an advantage in making the case in the Oval Office that they need to get information out,” the editor said. “I don’t know whether that will be enough.”
Snow has worked almost entirely as an editorial writer or columnist, not as a reporter.
Deborah Howell, ombudsman for The Washington Post and a former D.C. bureau chief for Newhouse Newspapers, said Snow’s background may help, but added “I don’t see how it makes much difference if he is trying to sell the president.”
Doug Clifton, editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, agreed: “He may become a more effective manipulator for the president, that is his job.”
Chris Peck, editor of The Commercial-Appeal in Memphis, saw little positive aspects to the appointment. “Snow brings some political baggage,” he said. “It probably doesn’t help.”
Charlotte Hall, editor of The Orlando Sentinel, agreed that Snow’s background could help both sides. “It is interesting that a journalist took the job,” she said. “Potentially, it could help both, but it is hard to see yet what will happen in this case.”