On The Passing Of Tony Snow

Tony Snow, former Fox News anchor, radio talk show host, and press secretary to George W. Bush, has succumbed to the cancer that he has been battling for many years. He was 53 years old.

I have written about Snow extensively over the years, with little positive to say. But this is not the time to dwell on that. Snow leaves behind a wife and three small children, and this is surely a tremendous loss for them, as it is for his many friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers on the Right.

But it is also a loss for our nation and for the pursuit of truth. Snow was the consummate insider. He was there as a speech writer for George Bush Sr. He was there at the birth of Fox News. He has had unique exposure to the twin powers of government and media – an interdisciplinary complex that I believe is far more dangerous than the military-industrial one that Eisenhower warned us about.

When it comes time to wax autobiographical, press secretaries and journalists are often the source of astonishing revelations about the inner workings of their fields. If Scott McClellan’s recent book purports to tell us “What Happened,” just imagine what Snow might have revealed if he had the opportunity to express himself without the constraints of his professional service. Whether he ever would have done so completely and candidly, we will never know. But he has been rather blunt on occasion in the past. ThinkProgress had compiled some commentary by Snow prior to his appointment at the White House that refers to the president as “an embarrassment,” “impotent,” and more.

In his career, Snow has exhibited a reliably rightist tone to his pronouncements in both the public and private sectors. As press secretary, he stubbornly affirmed the lies and misrepresentations of the White House. But he has also ventured off the plantation to deliver unexpected truths about the people and places he’s observed. We need much more of the latter. That’s the sort of forthright expression that can be truly beneficial politically, historically, and culturally.

With Snow’s untimely passing we can only wonder what might have happened; what might have been.

Jessica Yellin: Press Succumbs To Patriotic Fever

In a discussion on CNN of the book by former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, Anderson Cooper quoted a passage that criticized the press for not being sufficiently aggressive in their coverage of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration.

McClellan: “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.”

CNN reporter Jessica Yellin then described her experience with network news executives who pressured her to deliver stories that were slanted in favor of the President.

Yellin: “The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives.”

Yellin’s admission provides a stark confirmation of McClellan’s criticism. The press was indeed too deferential – because their bosses ordered them to be.

The real tragedy of all this is that these confessions always come far too late. Too late for the 4,000+ dead American soldiers and their families. Too late for the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. Too late for the next generation af Americans who will be burdened by the loss of international respect and trust, not to mention the burden of $2 trillion (and counting) of war debt.

Yellin is not the first journalist to issue this sort of belated mea culpa. I documented several other examples a year and a half ago. You just have to wonder where these people’s ethics were at the time.

The Scott McClellan Confessional

Former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, has joined the ranks of Bush administration castoffs to write a tell-all book illuminating their role in degrading our Democracy. While this book is a particularly damning reminiscence, it is also a stab at absolution. Here a few of the atrocities that McClellan is revealing while asserting he had little to do with them:

  • McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.
  • He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.
  • He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”
  • He asserts Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff “had at best misled” him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
  • He opines that “the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder […] war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”
  • He admits that “the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

Much of McClellan’s revelations are couched in his insistence that he was as much a victim as the nation. He asserts that Rove, Cheney, and Libby, were allowing him to go before the press corps and dispense information that they knew was false. In the big picture it doesn’t matter all that much if he is telling the truth now. His complicity is irrevocable whether it was due to intention or stupidity. And his superiors in the White House are still just as guilty.

The response from the White House is the predictable refrain that McClellan is:

  • untrustworthy and disloyal.
  • just trying to sell a book.
  • ignorant and out of the loop.
  • a liar.
  • to blame for not having spoken up sooner.

But the response from the media is somewhat more nuanced. Considering that it was the media that dropped the ball and allowed BushCo to peddle lies, you would think that they might be more repentant. But only Katie Couric, amongst the network anchors, seems to acknowledge any responsibility. Couric called it “one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism. Our responsibility is sometimes to go against the mood of the country and ask hard questions.” By contrast, Charlie Gibson said he thinks “the media did a pretty good job.” and that “it’s convenient now to blame the media.” Brian Williams said that you have to take into account the “post-9/11” mindset. No, Brian … You don’t! You only have to do your job responsibly and ethically. Anything less is (and was) a disservice to your viewers, the nation, and the world.

Another member of the media, as of this year, Karl Rove had his say about McClellan as well:

“This doesn’t sound like Scott. It really doesn’t — not the Scott McClellan I’ve known for a long time. … It sounds like a left-wing blogger. …If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about them. And frankly, I don’t remember him speaking up about these. I don’t remember a single word.”

I think we can expect Rove’s memory to be equally faulty in the months to come as he battles congressional subpoenas and the other legal hazards hovering around him. And if there is something we can be assured that Rove would forget, it is anything having to do with “moral qualms.” However, it was thoughtful of Rove to praise McClellan’s writing as sounding like “a left-wing blogger.”

The book will be released next week, and there is likely to be a lot more discussion in the days to come. It must be considered a net positive that an insider like McClellan is blowing the whistle on the criminals in the White House. But it would be going to far to buy into his claims of victimhood. I would support a grant of immunity if he spilled all he knows before a grand jury, but short of that, he is just another member of the gang.

A White House Awash In Lies

Former White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, is joining the ranks of castoff Bushies to belatedly embrace truthfulness in advance of the publication of a new book. This is a disturbing pattern amongst public figures who lie while in office and then recant their deception, after they’ve been ejected from their perch, with a tell-some memoir of their nefarious official activities.

In McClellan’s case, the publisher of his forthcoming tome teased the press with this tantalizing morsel:

The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.”

“There was one problem. It was not true.”

“I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President’s chief of staff, and the President himself.”

This admission of administration dishonesty could rise to the level of impeachability (as if we needed another reason). It demonstrates a deliberate effort on the part of high ranking officials to mislead the public and to obstruct justice. And it is telling that this criminality was shepherded through the White House press machine with the complicity of McClellan who was either terminally naive or incompetent.

While it is useful that these revelations are coming out, it is galling that it took so many years to do so. The administration has successfully quashed any discourse on the issue by refusing comment when the case was being actively litigated and then declaring that it was old news when the litigation came to a close. Both of McClellan’s successors, Tony Snow and Dana Perino, are just as guilty of covering up this affair as McClellan was. When asked to comment on the McClellan book, Perino said:

“The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information.”

That contradicts the president who admitted that he does lie to the press when it suits him, as it did when former defense secretary Don Rumsfeld resigned.

Contrary to Perino’s protest, the President, along with many of his top advisers, is simply not to be trusted. And the same is true of the mouthpieces like Perino, Snow and McClellan, who will do and say whatever their leader asks of them. They will prevaricate obediently and then, many years later, seek absolution through the purifying glow of book publishing and million dollar advances. The rest of the media will largely ignore this misbehavior because they are either too stupid to ferret out the truth, too frightened to report it, or too compromised by their own involvement or dreams of future book deals.

The Tony Snow Job

I suppose it was inevitable. Former Poppa Bush speechwriter, current Fox News commentator and Fox Radio talk show host, Tony Snow, been appointed White House Press Secretary. Since Snow has been shilling for the president for years in his current job, a guest on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown recently asked if he would be getting back pay. It must be convenient for the White House to have the farm team at Fox available any time they need a new relief spinner.

Amongst the jokes that write themselves when stupefying events like this occur, there are some seriously funny moments to treasure. ThinkProgress has compiled some commentary by Snow that refers to the president as “an embarrassment,” “impotent,” and more. If that’s the kind of counsel he’ll be giving in the Oval Office, this might turn out pretty well after all.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect Snow to be any more honest in his new job than he was in his old one. Media Matters has documented some of the many falsehoods that were a regular feature of his broadcasts.

However, as we bid farewell to Scotty McClellan and welcome Tony to his new digs, we must not forget why this substitution is taking place. The administration is in turmoil:

  • They are losing two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and rattling their paper sabers at a third (Iran).
  • They are defending multiple top-level aides who are under investigation or indictment.
  • They are stumbling around trying to deal with record high gas prices.
  • They are suffering from ever lower poll numbers and the possible loss of one or both houses of congress in November.

Their solution to this perfect storm of political chaos? A new press secretary!

This game plan clearly holds the hope that the new face will create a diversion. They expect that the White House Press Corpse will honor Snow with a Honeymoon Period. They’re going to say, “He needs to get his bearings and figure out which drawer the paper clips are in. Give him a break.”

Well I say Hell No! He is a veteran of both the media and the White House. If he can’t do the job he shouldn’t have been appointed. There are too many critical issues facing the country to allow precious time to slip away. We need answers to the questions raised above and others, like health care, tax fairness, immigration, wiretapping, global warming, and on and on. It is the Press Corpse’s job to elicit these answers from our representatives and they better damn well do it.

Wanted: White House Mouthpiece

White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, is rumored to be amongst the next wave of administration officials to be spending more time with family. The Washington Times already has an ad for his replacement.

    Click to view full size ad

This skill set describes a a vast pool of potential successors. At the top of that list you might expect to find the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. And you would be correct. The White House’s actual list begins with Fox News anchor Tony Snow. Other candidate names that have been floated include Rob Nichols, former Treasury spokesman, Victoria Clarke, former Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana M. Perino, Deputy Press Secretary, and Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Any other right-wing media shills might want to get their resumes in as soon as possible.

UPDATE: McClellan resigns as White House press secretary.