Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer on Problems Tony Snow May Face

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 26, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: What kind of problems would Tony Snow face in his new job? Joining us now from Montreal is a man who knows, former presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer.

You know, I talked to Snow. I knew he was going to take the job. We reported it earlier this week. And I said to him, I could never face these people in the White House because some of them are really rotten human beings, who aren't interested in the truth. They just want to make you look stupid, am I wrong?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it's a tough job to hold, Bill. And that's the problem with it. Your job is to represent the president, to speak for the president, but you still have to have good relations with the press. And the press's job is to treat you like a human pinata, and throw everything they can at you. And that's where, unfortunately, the briefing has descended to these days.

O'REILLY: But there's a difference. There are some White House press people who really want to get the truth out to the folks.

FLEISCHER: That's true.

O'REILLY: OK? And there are others who just want to make you look like a horse's behind. You know who they are, do you not?

FLEISCHER: Well, but the thing that's interesting about the White House job, and this is what Tony's going to find, is the modern White House briefing has really turned itself into a TV show. It's a sparring match between the press and the government.

A lot of work goes on, though, behind the scenes, Bill. And that's when there's a different briefing in the morning without TV cameras called the "gaggle," where a lot more serious information is conveyed on the record.

And a lot of work goes on when reporters, who are actually very pleasant, stroll into the press secretary's office countless times a day to talk to the press secretary to get a deeper context of what's going on in the news.

So you have to put the briefing in a category by itself. And Tony's going to excel at that televised briefing.

O'REILLY: Yes, he's going to do very well there, but he's also going to have to deal with very, very questionable people.

FLEISCHER: You got it.

O'REILLY: And see, if it's me and some Helen Thomas type person, and I'm only picking on her because she's the most blatant example, starts to say crazy things, I would not demean her but I would say, listen, madam, we know what your agenda is. Why don't you knock it off and ask a legitimate question? But you can't possibly say that, can you?

FLEISCHER: Well, the press secretary's job is to mix it up a little bit with the press in a respectful way. But also, in the modern media world where the country gets to watch the questions, that's one of the reasons I think, Bill, that the press is in decline substantially because they bring a bit of it on themselves.

I know one reporter who once said there's no such thing as a stupid question. I think the reality is the public watches some of these questions, not all but some of them. And they think that was really a stupid question.

O'REILLY: Well, especially if it's loaded, especially if there's all kinds of accusations. Now did you consider yourself a shill for the president? Did you have to go out there and say what they told you to say?

FLEISCHER: You know, your job when you're the spokesman is to speak for someone else. And I was a press secretary for three congressmen, one senator, and the president. It wasn't my place to say what my opinions were. It was to say what their opinions were.

O'REILLY: Behind the scenes.

FLEISCHER: They ran and they got elected on the basis of their views.

O'REILLY: OK, but behind the scenes, did you say to them, "gee, you know, this is not going to go down well or..."

FLEISCHER: You bet. And that's one of the president's best assets, Bill. The president likes to hear it. And this is where Tony, because he's written things that are controversial against the president, is going to have a good seat at the table on the inside.

The White House wants a little shake up. They need to hear from outsiders. They need to hear from some people who have fresh legs and are new with new perspectives. And that's helpful to have that voice of criticism on the inside.

I used to provide it, but you get tired when you're there for a long time. And Tony being new and fresh is going to be very helpful.

O'REILLY: Now is -- there are a lot of rivalries within the White House itself. I mean, you know, people have different agendas. They're vying for the president's attention on all of that. Does that beat you down as well?

FLEISCHER: Not as bad as you might think, because this -- the Bush White House is largely a collegial White House. You really have a group of people who work well together. It's not like his father's White House, where you had a clash of people with giant egos, who really didn't ever get along. It's not quite the case here. And that makes your day a little bit easier when it's a tough day.

O'REILLY: How dominant is the president in telling you or Tony Snow now what exactly to say? Will he say, look...

FLEISCHER: He's not.

O'REILLY: ...Ari, I want you to say this?

FLEISCHER: He's not like that, but what you do have to do is you just -- if you're around him long enough and this is what Tony's going to have to pick up, is you figure out what's important to him and what's not important to him.

And the problem Tony's going to face is the press is going to want to know, all right, in that meeting at the Oval Office that you sat in Tony, what did the vice president say? What did Karl say? What did Condi say? Did they disagree? Who disagreed with whom? And this is what no press secretary should give out to the press.

O'REILLY: Oh, yes.

FLEISCHER: ...because (INAUDIBLE) that is a private meeting.

O'REILLY: One more question.

FLEISCHER: But it's also what the press loves to get.

O'REILLY: Sure. They want to get anything to make you look bad.

FLEISCHER: That's also.

O'REILLY: And that's what they want.

FLEISCHER: They want the behind the scenes story, which is their job.

O'REILLY: Yes, but the behind the scenes story has to be negative.

FLEISCHER: And that's what...

O'REILLY: It can't be positive. They're not looking for positive stuff, come on!

FLEISCHER: And that's why the position's always going to have tension between whoever the press secretary is and the press.

O'REILLY: All right. One last question.

FLEISCHER: It is inevitable.

O'REILLY: One last question. Does President Bush have a short attention span?


O'REILLY: OK. So he'll listen to the intricacies and this and that before making a decision?

FLEISCHER: That's correct. He's very decisive, though, once he makes up his mind. It's very hard to get him to change it, but...

O'REILLY: He'll tell you to shut up if he doesn't want to hear it any more?

FLEISCHER: He has a way of just moving on when he's done.

O'REILLY: All right.

FLEISCHER: ...but you always have your chance to tell him.

O'REILLY: All right, thank you, Ari. I appreciate you coming in.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Bill.

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