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May 13, 2006

"Nice and Collegial and Relaxed:" Four Scenes From Tony Snow's First Meet with the Press

We're discussing them in the comments. What do you think is going on?

First, the Associated Press Report:

Snow has been on the job since Monday, but was waiting to hold his first televised briefing—taking advantage of a week when Bush was on the road most days—to practice and begin educating himself on a dizzying array of policy positions.

On Friday, he scheduled his first informal back-and-forth with the press, an informal, off-camera session called the “gaggle” which White House press secretaries typically hold in the mornings as a sort of warmup for The Big Dance _ the formal White House daily news briefing.

Snow had announced that he was moving the gaggle to his West Wing office from the theater-like White House briefing room, in hopes of making it more of a casual, intimate conversation.

But it got under way several minutes early. And though the press secretary’s quarters are among the more spacious in the West Wing, the room quickly filled to overflowing _ so that many reporters were stranded, unable to hear or ask questions, in the hallway outside.

From Tony Snow’s First Press Gaggle, May 12, 2006

Full Transcript

Scene One…

QUESTION: I noticed this week a more aggressive use of the “Setting the Record Straight” technique. It’s a device that has existed in the past. Is it just more was needed this week, or is there a change in attitude?

TONY SNOW: No, there’s not a change in attitude. What we’re going to do with “Setting the Record Straight” — and, by the way, after consulting with some of our colleagues in here, what we’ll do is we will also let you know in advance when we’re going to put one out, especially if it has to do with things that you’ve written or done is one of these things, and try to make it strictly factual.

So in any event, this is a practice that I think has been ramping up in previous weeks and suddenly it’s like, “Snow is here, this must be a change.” It’s not really a change; it’s a continuation of something that the Press Office has been doing. But I want to do this in a genial and collegial manner.

QUESTION: How are you going to make this administration more credible?

TONY SNOW: I’m not going to answer questions about credibility, other than to say that I’m eager to be here and I’m happy to be working with you.

QUESTION: Are you ever going to — always going to tell the truth?


Scene Two…

QUESTION: Different subject. Four lawmakers, senior lawmakers say that they sent a letter to President Bush on Russian WTO negotiations — opposing, basically, Russia’s entry. Are you aware of that?

TONY SNOW: No, and I will apologize as the new kid on the block. I am certainly not going to get myself into — for today, I’m not going to handle international issues or currency issues. I do not wish to set off global tempests — (laughter) — because I, frankly, just don’t know enough on those. I will be happy to get back to you.

As a matter of fact for gaggle purposes, if somebody can take notes on some of these things, I’ll try to get back to you on it. But I just don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: I’d like — this was 9:00 a.m., then it was pushed back to 9:30 a.m., and then I walk in at 9:20 a.m., and it’s already well underway.

QUESTION: Do not do that again.

QUESTION: This isn’t good.

TONY SNOW: Well, this is — it’s my fault. And it had to do with vagaries of the schedule today, and I apologize, period.

QUESTION: Because we’ve missed half of it. This is the first one you’re doing, and I just feel like —

TONY SNOW: Well, I apologize. That’s just flat my fault.

QUESTION: Can everybody get a gaggle — can everyone get a gaggle emailed to them?

QUESTION: Can we get a transcript?

TONY SNOW: Yes. And what we will try to do, I will make this a lot more predictable and regular, you’ve got to give me a little forbearance.

QUESTION: I was here, sitting out here in the hallway. I can’t even hear any of this conversation.

TONY SNOW: Okay, well, I’ll tell you what we will do then is we will move it back into the Briefing Room. I had this wonderful idea that this would be nice and collegial and relaxed, but it obviously at this point is just a mess. (Laughter.) So rather than doing that, we will go back to gaggling in the Briefing Room, and then as numbers dwindle, we may think of bringing it back here.

Scene Three…

QUESTION: Since it’s your maiden voyage, tell us, do you have direct access with the President every day? I mean, have you made some certain rules for yourself?

TONY SNOW: Well, I think the President makes the rules, but, yes, I’ve been granted access. My predecessors all had what was called “walk-in” access. But I have access to the President, yes.

QUESTION: What about the briefings — you’re talking about the gaggle — what about the briefings? We’re hearing a whole bunch of different things about the briefings. Are the briefings—

TONY SNOW: Okay, thank you for that. The question is, are we going to stop televising briefings and all that. I haven’t made any decisions. The briefings will continue as they have in the past. If there are any changes made in the briefings, I will do that in full consultation with you guys. I’m not going to wave a wand and change things. I have a feeling the televised briefings are not something that you can undo.

But, look, I want to make this office as effective as possible getting information to you. We’ll find out the best ways of doing that. But rumors of the televised briefings demise are greatly exaggerated.

Scene Four…

QUESTION: Tony, what has the White House — what’s the White House position on this report that the Justice Department investigation into the NSA program was blocked because people couldn’t get security clearance? Was that —

TONY SNOW: Dana, I’m going to toss that to you, because you’ve got a better brief on that. You don’t mind if I do that, do you?

MS. PERINO: That’s fine. The Justice Department has spoken to their office of professional responsibility. I think that they put out a statement I think last night, or on Tuesday night, when it was first reported back.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PERINO: Excuse me?

QUESTION: We can’t hear any of the discussion.

TONY SNOW: I’ll tell you what, I’ll speak up. You’ll forgive me, but I’ll just — I will do the talking points on this because, again, as the new kid on the block, I’m not fully briefed into everything, but here it is.

“The Justice Department has, in fact, spoken about the issue. Only those involved in national security with specific need-to-know are given details about the classified program. That includes several more members of Congress on the intelligence committees. The TSB has been subject to extensive oversight. The review includes a scrutiny of the NSA inspector general, who, unlike the office at the Department of Justice, is specifically charged with overseeing the lawfulness of employee actions.”

I hate to read from a sheet of paper, but that’s —

QUESTION: Is there some effort to say — this is highly unusual, that these people wouldn’t be granted security clearance —

TONY SNOW: I’m not going to — as a lawyer, I’m not going to argue with legal experts.

MS. PERINO: There’s a very limited number of people who are fully briefed on that program.

QUESTION: We’re not asking you — isn’t it peculiar that Justice Department lawyers cannot get security clearance to look into the NSA?

TONY SNOW: Honestly, I can’t answer the question.


TONY SNOW: Because I don’t know enough about it.

QUESTION: Can you find out?

TONY SNOW: Yes, I can find out.

Posted by Jay Rosen at May 13, 2006 1:00 AM