It’s all in the hands: People managing editor Larry Hackett’s (left) questions ranged from expansive to specific, but former White House press secretary Tony Snow’s responses stayed tight throughout.
For an out-of-work White House press secretary, Tony Snow remained remarkably on-message during an interview this evening by People managing editor Larry Hackett at the keynote session that opened the 2007 American Magazine Conference here in Boca Raton, Florida.
In a conversation that lasted just under an hour, including a handful of audience queries that followed a rapidfire stream of questions from Hackett, Snow — who also worked within President George H.W. Bush’s administration as director of speechwriting — held the conversational line just as strongly as he maintained it throughout his stint as press secretary.
A magazine vet who currently heads up corporate communications at a major media conglomerate marveled to us after the interview, “I was fascinated by all the questions to which [Snow] said, ‘I don’t know.’ In communications, you’re supposed to have the answer for everything.” To us, Snow’s question marks made him seem uninformed like a fox. For all the answers Snow could and (perhaps tellingly) couldn’t — and frequently wouldn’t — provide, read on.
On serving in Bush White Houses I and II: The two Bush presidents are “different kinds of managers”
What it was like under Bush II: “Being press secretary, believe it or not, was a blast.”
On similarities working in both Bush White Houses: “One thing we had in both White Houses was ratings in the 30’s.”
On the freedom those within the Bush II administration have when it comes to divergent opinions: “You don’t see it, the process in this White House — there are raging arguments.”
Hackett: “Give us one.”
Snow [instantaneously]: “No.”
On whether he looks back and wonders if he’d done things differently, the president’s approval rating would’ve been higher: “I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to be able to move numbers.”
On whether he had enough access to W., compared to previous Bush II press secretaries: “I had the access I needed.
You don’t say to your predecessor, ‘Hey, did you get screwed on access?’ I had what they call ‘walk-in’ privileges. If I needed to see him, I’d call the secretary and usually I’d see him with 10 or 15
minutes, unless he was in the middle of a longer-term meeting.”
Hackett: “Did you ever say to [Bush II], ‘Hey, why did you say *that* in the press conference?'”
Snow: “Usually, someone had already said it for me.”
Hackett: “Does he think the press are fair?”
Snow [with his first pause in response to a question]: “I don’t know… he’s not the type to dis the press.”
On editors sending reporters questions, via Blackberries, etc., to ask in real time: “If you’re doing that in real time, it’s easy to be real stupid.”
Hackett: “What was the most uncomfortable position you had to get behind?”
Snow: “There really were no dark nights of the soul when I worked at the White House.”
Hackett: “Who was the best White House reporter?”
Snow: “I’m not going to do that.”
On the media’s political leanings: “The Washington press corps is the most reliable Democratic voting bloc.”
Hackett: “Is the Democratic race over?”
Snow [immediately]: “Yes.”
Snow: “Because it is.”
Audience Q: How much did you interact w/ vice president Dick Cheney?
Snow: [In meetings, Cheney] “doesn’t speak up unless it’s vital to do so.”
On how Snow thinks his replacement Dana Perino handled communicating to the press exactly when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez gave notice: “I have not spent a lot of time watching press briefings since I left.”
“There is a perceived bias on the part of Fox because it doesn’t treat conservatives like knuckle-dragging morons.”
Hackett: “Are you saying CNN does?”
On Bill O’Reilly: “If you get in his way [salutes], nice knowing you.”
On what Bush II will do once he leaves office: “He will live in Crawford[, Texas]. I’m sure he’ll set up urban housekeeping, as well… He’ll write a book. He’ll work on things… The president’s formulation for [leaving office] is, he’s going to run through the tape.”