When former talk radio host Tony Snow was tapped to become White House Press Secretary last spring, the move sparked several conversations. Concerns were renewed about the "revolving door" that seem to be in perpetual motion between politics and journalism. Hopes were raised of a new openness in the combative relationship between the administration and the media. Bringing Snow on board seemed to break the traditional model of the lesser-known (and uber-combative) spokesperson the White House press corps has grown accustomed to.
What few observers, if any, saw coming was a new breed of press secretary that was to include a starring role in partisan fund-raisers. Snow's appearances on the stump have raised an eyebrow here and there, but for the most part, have been accepted as almost business as usual. Perhaps there isn't anything at all inappropriate or surprising in the appearances. It is the job of any administration's press spokesperson to advocate and explain policies and positions of the party's leader, after all, so why should anyone be shocked that someone who spends high-profile time in a back-and-forth with critics would be an attraction on the campaign trail?
But what of the other role a press secretary is supposed to play – that of a facilitator of information between the White House and the press/public? Certainly there is an argument to be made that, despite loyalty to the party and president, the White House is a representative for the entire nation, not one party or another. To be sure, there is a fine line between public defender and responsible conduit but don't we expect even our government mouthpieces to refrain from politicking?
Sadly, the answer to that is probably a resounding "no." It's a bow to reality, not recognition of the ideal or even impure motive that has us accepting the idea that our White House spokesman is out helping to rally the faithful. In an era which politicizes just about everything, Snow's relatively low-key campaigning could even be lauded as an example of admirable restraint. That may be a disappointment to those prone toward idealism but, as Snow himself tells the New York Times today:
It is often said that the White House press secretary serves two masters: the president and the press, which relies on the press secretary to advocate for the release of information. Mr. Snow believes that is true — to a point.
"The press secretary serves two masters," he said, "but not all masters are equal."
That gets back to his decision to headline fund-raisers, a decision he says he made only after soliciting the advice of colleagues, including the White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers. Mr. Snow said he set his own ground rules and would quit raising money if it interfered with his day job.
How will he know? "I have the feeling that all of us will know," he said. "You kind of know it when you see it."