The White House Briefing Room was standing room only, aisles jammed. With immigration policy and government snooping in the headlines, reporters were ready to test the president's new press secretary. Would he tell us anything new? Would it at least be presented differently? How would he handle himself at the lectern?
The answers: No, yes and confidently.
Tony Snow was stoked, smiling and willing to say there were some things he didn't know.
The test of any press spokesperson is his or her ability to take the guidance they've been given and present it without seeming to be reading it word-for-word. Make it sound as though it could be new. Above all, be engaged. Snow was all of that. Call it creative spinning.
First question: Had the president indirectly confirmed at his news conference with the Australian prime minister that the government is collecting a data bank of phone numbers? Here's Mr. Bush's quote: "The program he's asking about is one that has been fully briefed to members of the United States Congress, in both political parties."
Sounds like he's talking about that program, yes?
Here's Snow's answer: "What he's talking about is that all intelligence matters conducted by the National Security Agency — and we've said this many times — have been fully briefed to a handful of members of the Senate Intelligence and House Intelligence Committee, the leadership."
After polishing off the front two rows in similar fashion, Snow, who was wearing a Lance Armstrong yellow bracelet, was asked about his personal decision to take the job despite being treated last year for colon cancer. He began answering, but began to struggle with his emotions. Long pauses … what he then referred to as "my Ed Muskie moment," after the Senate Democrat seeking the 1972 presidential nomination who broke down and cried in New Hampshire.
"The best thing that ever happened to me," he said, noting that cancer treatment had made huge strides since he lost his mother to the same disease. "You don't have to worry about getting cancer talking to those people" (that's us), he said doctors told him — "just heartburn. That's a blessing". A few members of the press broke into applause. The judgment of reporters: a genuine personal moment.
Did Snow make news on his first outing? No. Did he parry the expected questions? Sure — and did it with considerable panache.
Asked for final thoughts on his first day Snow replied, "I love it. This is great. Thank you."
Let's see how long the love lasts!