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Special Report

Tony Snow in an Exclusive Interview on New White House Role

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from April 26, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

BRIT HUME, HOST: So how will Tony Snow approach his new job? Will he represent the pres ident to the press corps or only represent the press corps to the president? Who better to ask than Tony Snow himself?

Tony, welcome. Thanks for doing this.

TONY SNOW, APPOINTED WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good to be here. Thanks, Brit.

HUME: First of all, tell me the assurances you have about your access to all that goes on in the White House and your access to the president.

SNOW: Well, the press secretaries in this White House have all had what they call walk-in access. So when you need to you can walk in and you can talk to the president. And I’ve talked with them. And basically I’ve had access to every meeting and every bit of information I need to get my hands on.

HUME: And how did — how do you — you said in the brief encounter with the press today that — that you want to work with those people.

SNOW: Yes.

HUME: Now you’ve seen how poisonous that atmosphere can be in the briefing room?

SNOW: Yes.

HUME: What does that mean exactly?

SNOW: Well, I think the first thing it means is somebody who’s never been a press secretary before — I need to get to know every person who’s out in that room every day.

As you know, it’s — these are people who are holed up in close quarters for an extended period of time. And one way or another you’re going to have to get along. So I want to get along with the press corps and understand whatever concerns they may have and at the same time try to figure out exactly the technical aspects of doing the job effectively.

I’m the guy who’s going to spend the next couple of weeks watching briefings and trying to — and meeting with staff and figuring out how it all works. So I don’t have a fully crafted sort of strategy for doing things. The first thing, you know, when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on is you assess the facts on the ground. That’s the first thing I’m going to do.

HUME: Well, do you see yourself here as an advocate for the president or some kind of a — sort of an information broker between the White House and the media?

SNOW: Well, you’re a little bit of both. You — a press secretary — I spent a lot of time speaking with former press secretaries to get a feel for how it works, and especially those that have been successful. And there always seems to be an element that at times you have to be an advocate for the press in the sense of saying you’ve got to put this person on this flight. You’ve got to send this person to this event. There are some things where the press will argue for kinds of access that make sense.

At the same time, you are the president’s advocate and information broker. The people sitting in that room want information. If they don’t get it, they’re going to get cranky. So it’s important to make sure that there’s a flow of information.

HUME: Well, is it important to keep the press from getting cranky, in your view?

SNOW: No. It’s — I don’t think it’s important. It’s probably important not to use the podium as a place for picking fights you don’t need to pick. You don’t need to be needlessly provocative.

HUME: Let me ask you about another issue that comes up with press secretaries. When Marlin Fitzwater and, for that matter, Dee Dee Myers were press secretary to the first President Bush and Dee Dee Myers, of course, to President Clinton, they did not embark — they did not engage in sort of political fisticuffs with members of Congress and other political players.

SNOW: Right.

HUME: They might rebut something a politician said, but they didn’t take them on.

SNOW: No.

HUME: Mike McCurry on the other hand, who was a very effective press secretary in the eyes of many people, did take them on. How do you plan to use that podium?

SNOW: I’m probably more Fitzwaterian. I mean, you never know exactly how you’re going to perform until you get in the job. So at this point, I have not sat down and tried to figure out how I would handle it. But I think Marlin is somebody — having worked with him and seen him, he was enormously effective. He had the trust of the press and the confidence of the president. That’s the kind of a combination you need.

HUME: Do you anticipate and hope to be liked by the press corps?

SNOW: I think the most important thing is to be respected by the press corps. As you know, being chummy is one thing, but if I’m chummy and they’re not getting information or they’re getting a quality of information that they don’t think is worthwhile, it’s not going to do you any good.

So the idea, I think, is to do a competent job in terms of getting information to the press corps so that they respect you. You never lie. You never try to shave the truth. But on the other hand, you’ve got to keep in mind the guy I’m working for is the president.

HUME: And what do you see as — I mean, if you see your role differently than, say, Scott McClellan saw his role, how so?

SNOW: I don’t know. Because, frankly, not only do I not want to engage in comparisons with Scott, I’m not sure I could get inside his head and figure out what his role is. I simply know what I want mine to be, which is somebody who’s an effective counselor and press secretary.

HUME: What about that counselor role? Press secretaries haven’t always been advisers except on narrow matters involving press access and what the press should be told. Is it your expectation that you’ll be at the table when policy decisions are made and that you’ll have a voice?

SNOW: That’s one of those things I’m just going to have to wait and see. I mean...

HUME: Would you like that?

SNOW: Yes, probably. But on the other hand, one of the things you have to do is to figure out what the president likes, what the president wants.

HUME: Apart from the opportunity to serve your country, which any citizen would cherish, what is it that draws you to this job?

SNOW: The thing that draws me to the job is — and I said this in the briefing today — is that this is a time when there are a number of hugely important domestic and international issues, and to get involved in a very serious way, in a very substantive way in all these issues is very exciting to me.

You have not only — you’ve got issues like immigration, spending taxes at home. You look around the globe. What do you have? Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, relations with Russia. You’ve got a lot of these things going on, and I can’t think of something that would be as stimulating and interesting and potentially fulfilling and helpful to the country.

HUME: Last question, one you’re going to get. You said among the things critical to this president, for example, on September 30 of last year, "No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to defending presidential powers and prerogatives." How do you plan to deal when asked with your past criticism of this president?

SNOW: Well, the pretty simple answer, which is there are probably a lot of people in the press room who from time to time say, "I wish I hadn’t written or said that."

Here’s the key. When I will be giving advice to the president, it will be my advice. And if I have differing opinions with some people, I will express them.

But on the other hand, the job as press secretary is not to come in as a surrogate president and say what I believe matters, because frankly what matters is what the administration has decided to do, and that I will express as forcefully as I possibly can.

HUME: Tony, congratulations. All the best to you.

SNOW: Thanks, Brit.

HUME: Good to see you. Hope you’ll come back.

SNOW: Yes, sure will.

HUME: You’re always welcome here.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.

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