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Tony Takes The Stage

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Today marked Tony Snow's first televised press briefing as White House press secretary and all hands appeared to be on deck for the inaugural launch. CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante was there and had this to say in his "Reporter's Notebook":
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.

The rest of the reviews are starting to roll in. CNN correspondent Ed Henry gave this impression to viewers in a talk-back with anchor Kyra Phillips:
"Everyone wanted drama on the first day. And I think maybe we were expecting drama in the sense of a lot of back and forth, give and take between reporters and Tony Snow.

We certainly saw some of that. He mixed it up with people like David Gregory, Helen Thomas, some of the people that had sparred as well with Scott McClellan, the previous press secretary.

We're certain to hear plenty more reactions to Snow's performance in the days and weeks to come, but as someone who's watched hundreds of these press briefings, allow me a moment to give my impressions. (Full disclosure time here: I worked fairly closely with Tony Snow when he hosted "Fox News Sunday".)

Snow appeared relaxed, confident and in-control when he stepped up to the podium and started right into the routine of making a couple brief statements and then going to the questions. After a few years of Scott McClellan, the difference in Snow's approach was immediately noticeable. Where McClellan often appeared robotic and repetitive, Snow was much more expansive, getting into areas of broad strategy and seeming engaged as much in the debate of the immigration issue as in an explanation of the president's position.

There were some speculative moments from Snow, something I suspect will disappear from his repertoire over time. The dangers of over-reaching were brought home when he went so far as to "guarantee" that the Senate would pass some form of immigration reform. That statement brought about a strange moment when his former Fox News colleague Carl Cameron brought it to his attention, asking if he knew for certain what the Senate would do. Snow caught the moment immediately and responded by saying, "I overstepped and should not be making predictions about what the Senate will do." One can't know for sure, but it did seem as though Cameron might have been trying to alert Snow to a potential flub and give him the opening to get out of it.

There were some moments that could have come directly out of press briefings from the past year or so, questions answered with a non-response like, "it's not appropriate" to comment on the story about phone data mining by the NSA. And there was the verbal jousting with the usual suspects – NBC's David Gregory and White House fixture Helen Thomas. No real fireworks, just feeling out the playing field.

The only dramatic moment came when Snow was asked what the yellow bracelet he wore was supposed to represent (an obvious question that could only come from the White House press corps). Snow appeared to be genuinely caught off guard as he began to discuss having battled cancer just a year ago. With tears welling in his eyes, Snow paused to compose himself before talking about his recovery and his mother's death from the same type of cancer. He called it his "Ed Muskie moment" before moving back to some questions about the issue of the day.

That will almost certainly be the highlight coming out of Snow's debut in front of the White House cameras, a solid performance that yielded little other real news. And from the view of any White House, that's probably good news.

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