Parting Is 'Sweet Sorrow' For Tony Snow

It was an unusual outpouring of genuine affection late yesterday afternoon as hundreds of White House staffers gathered outside the West Wing to cheer and applaud as Tony Snow left the Executive Mansion, ending his 16-month career as presidential spokesman.

He was leaving by choice, but he couldn't have been sorrier about it.

"I'm gonna miss the job," Snow said. "Obviously I love it here at the White House. It's been a great privilege."

Just a couple of hours earlier, in his office across the hall from the Cabinet Room and a few steps further from the Oval Office, Snow was packing up his belongings: memorabilia from his tenure as Press Secretary - and lamenting his departure.

"I think when you leave the White House you begin once again to get a sense of the grandeur of the place," he said. "There are lots of little things that happen on a regular daily basis here that I'm just gonna miss: being able to walk over to the Oval Office and see the president or watch Marine One lift off."

It was his own decision to pull the plug on his job. The 52-year-old Snow candidly explained that he could no longer to support his family on his government salary, though he suspects some people think he's leaving because of his illness.

"Having cancer, I think the first reaction's going to be: he's sick, he's got to go. He's dying. He's got to pay the bills," Snow said. "So, honesty's always the best policy."

In a radio interview with CBS News, Snow conceded that many people will find it hard to believe he couldn't support his family on $168,000-a-year. But he made considerably before as a Fox News anchor and pundit and a radio talk show host.

"I make no apologies," he said. "I earned a good paycheck before I came to the White House."

He said he had to take out loans when the big money stopped coming in, and now he needed to return to the private sector.

After taking a vacation, he intends to hit the lucrative lecture circuit. He also plans to write some books, though not "a tell-all" about the secrets of the White House. Also, the Republican National Committee sees him as a hot property who can raise money for the party's efforts to retain the White House and win back Congress in 2008.

"I'm gonna miss the place a great deal - but on the other hand - its important for me to go out and earn a living for my wife and kids. So I'm pretty excited about what happens next," Snow said. "But you can't leave the White House without a little sweet sorrow."

Many of his predecessors came to dread the daily job of briefing the White House press corps, a process sometimes referred to as "feeding the beast." Not so Tony Snow.

"I love the contest of ideas. I love going back and forth with folks who are friends and may be colleagues again," he said. "And I think it does make a difference (that I have) a journalistic background."

But he admits he wasn't sure about how he would fare in the job when he began it in April of 2006.

"I was scared," Snow said. "I didn't know what to expect, but it really has been a totally delightful job."

And he's remarkably understanding of the members of the press corps who pounded him on a daily basis with demands for answers and information he either did not have, could not give or reporters deemed unsatisfactory.

Snow said, "The White House press corps has a tough job which is to try to squeeze news out of a White House where they don't have free entry or access. It's a really tough reporting job and there are all sorts of writers and reporters with different styles. But I think you get a lot of the drama in the Briefing Room because people are under real pressure to get some news and get it real quickly."

He may not have satisfied reporters, but he says he always told the truth.

"I was never asked to lie. As a matter of fact, I made it clear and everybody else has made it clear around here: you don't lie to the press," he said. "You just don't. It's the dumbest thing because you sacrifice the only thing that you have - the most important commodity in public life is your credibility and people's ability to trust you."

None of that means the White House will get the kind of press coverage it wants. Snow admits there at times the president feels he's been "ill-treated" by the news media.

"But George W. Bush is a pretty big guy, and he really doesn't walk around harboring grudges or complaining about his treatment," he said.

Snow says Mr. Bush will complain about some stories but knows "its just not a winning formula for a president to get into fights with the press, so he doesn't do it."

On Monday, Snow's principal deputy, Dana Perino, takes the lectern for the first time as the new White House Press Secretary. Snow's advice to his 35-year-old successor: "Enjoy!"

"She's had the experience. She certainly has the trust and confidence of the press. And I think it's gonna be pretty seamless," Snow said. "She'll have a different style but that's fine. That's her style. The last thing you want to do which is to copy somebody."

And, how will Snow feel if one day soon he turns on C-SPAN some afternoon and sees Perino getting grilled?

"I'll feel a certain amount of empathy. But I have a feeling that she'll give as good as she gets and I'll say 'you go, girl.'"

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.