TONY SNOW, the former Fox News anchor and talk radio host, has taken one of the toughest jobs in America. As White House press secretary for President Bush, he'll have deal with a press corps that is both out of control and smug in its negative opinion of the both the president and his administration.
What should Snow do? First, recognize the position he's put himself in: It's dire. The press is bent on trashing Bush. And while Snow is a delightful and upbeat person, his charm will get neither him nor Bush anywhere with the media. And second, he's fighting history. Though second term makeovers are worth trying--and Snow is part of one--they never restore a presidency to its first term glory.
That's the situation. Bad as it is, there are things Snow can do to improve the president's standing, at least at the margins. And there are things to be avoided that won't help the president at all and may even make things worse.
I've got five pieces of advice:
(1) Ban TV cameras from the daily White House briefings for the press. These events have turned the press room into a battleground and the press is winning. Reporters grandstand and showboat and hector. They ask questions that won't elicit information, but may make them look tough. The effect is to make the White House look far more embattled than it really is.
This advice may seem counterproductive because Snow is a media star with considerable charisma. He was hired to tout the president on television. He can still do this. He'll be the hot official in the Bush administration for months to come. Every TV news show, foreign and domestic, will want to interview him. His speeches will be covered. As the handsome new face of the administration, he'll be a TV staple.
(2) Be willing to be disliked. The job of press secretary, if done well, is not be liked by the press corps. There's an inverse relationship at work here. We'll know Snow is not helping the president if reporters like him. Should he rebut their assertions effectively and put them in their place--in other words, stand up strongly for Bush and his policies--reporters will grouse. And there's no need for Snow to pay lip service to the notion that as press secretary, he serves two masters, the president and the press. The press secretary serves only the president.
(3) Don't address old columns. Snow must tell the press that he's now the president's man, available only to say what the president is doing and thinking. His old columns and talk show rants are irrelevant. Reporters will plaster him with his past criticisms of Bush and ask him to square them with what he now says as press secretary. That's a fool's game Snow should avoid. What Snow does has to be about Bush, not about him.
(4) Promote the president's policies. It's amazing how few Republicans from Congress or the administration step forward publicly on Bush's behalf. Bush often seems to be without vocal allies and defenders, and heaven knows he needs them. Snow can fill the gap. He's smart and articulate and will have a podium wherever he goes, in or out of Washington. And he may have more credibility than a professional flack.
(5) Don't fall for the old advice that the key to recovery is giving the press more access to president--then they'll learn to like him and cover him more favorably. Hogwash. Every president in trouble has tried this and it's never worked. So don't waste the president's time.
In the end, Snow may turn out to be exactly what the president needs. A new press secretary can't rejuvenate a struggling presidency. But he sure can help.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard and author of Rebel-in-Chief (Crown Forum).