Tony Snow on McCain-New York Times Controversy

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," February 21, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight: analysis of the [McCain-New York Times] situation. Joining us from Washington is former White House spokesman Tony Snow. What do you think?

TONY SNOW, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I think you're absolutely right. It's unbelievably sloppy. Look, you can't have an innuendo saying they had a personal affair without any details, or say that he was intervening inappropriately on the part of clients that she was representing without having any details.

And furthermore, what you didn't mention, Bob Bennett, his attorney, has pointed out that they submitted 30 or 40 pages of answers to written questions. And they had something like a dozen different cases in which Ms. Iseman had recommended one course of action, and John McCain had opposed it.

So it strikes me as somebody trying to retell gossip, spinning it out into a 3,000-word piece, giving it the impression of death by going into a lot of the processes involved here in Washington. And it's a nothing-burger. I think it's something that is going to do a lot more damage to The New York Times than to John McCain.

O'REILLY: Now you would think The Times would know that, with the reputation of being a far-left agenda driven vehicle. They know this program, talk radio, commentators like yourself are all going to question this kind of anonymous reporting. And why would The New York Times, already in economic trouble, already with the perception of being unfair across the board, why would they do it?

SNOW: It strikes me as completely bizarre. The New Republic today ran a piece that details a lot of the internal debates that went into this piece. Apparently, The New Republic was about to print this tell-all about the debate regarding McCain's story. Whether or not that prompted The Times to go ahead, I don't know.

But it seems that Bill Keller, the executive editor, thought this was a sloppy piece of work and kept resisting it. There was a lot of pressure out of the Washington bureau. "Hey, we've got something saucy, boss." And whether Bill Keller, for whatever reason, knuckled under and figured that this is the way to sort of get along, I don't know.

But having been in journalism for nearly 30 years, I've got to tell you, no editor is going to look at something like that and say that it measures up, because it doesn't. It doesn't even measure up in terms of gossip.

O'REILLY: Well, here's the real tragedy, and this is an American tragedy, because this is stuff that's been going on for far too long. There isn't an accusation that McCain broke any law. There isn't an accusation that he actually had an affair with a woman. They don't say he did. Both parties deny that. OK?

All they do in The New York Times article is insinuate, is suggest, based on no hard evidence. And then NBC News, which you know, I have been ultra critical of, takes it, spits it out worldwide as truth. You know, they always put the question mark. But...

SNOW: Right.

O'REILLY: ...they're putting it in the most harsh light because they want a Democrat in the White House. Now I believe that's what NBC News did. And I believe that's why The New York Times did what it did.

SNOW: Look, I also think that there is a problem right now in journalism. Everybody's trying to get on air as rapidly as possible with something as sensational as possible. This is why we get all of these Britney Spears stories.

But the fact is that this is a presidential campaign. People are sick of this stuff. They're sick of the kind of cannibalism that goes on in Washington. They're sick of sloppy smears. What they like is somebody who's actually talking about stuff.

O'REILLY: See, I disagree with you there.


O'REILLY: There has been a longstanding rumor, and you know it, about a Democratic, powerful Democratic person in this country, longstanding, been around, people have looked at it, never reported by anyone, never mentioned by anyone. Easily done in the same way The New York Times did it. I could do it. I could do it. I could do it tomorrow, anonymous sources told me this individual in America, again, a prominent Democrat...

SNOW: Right.

O'REILLY: ...was doing this, all right. And everybody in the business, the journalism business, knows that story's in play. No one will report it. So it's a hit piece on McCain. It's a hit piece.

SNOW: Of course it's a hit piece on McCain. I couldn't agree more. And I think, again, it hurts The New York Times. This is an institution, as you pointed out. It's got declining revenue, it's got declining circulation, it's got declining influence. And furthermore, when you get near Washington, people begin to gossip knowingly about stuff where they have absolutely no idea what the facts are. Hurts their credibility, too. Most people are pretty fair-minded.

O'REILLY: All right. Now you were very fair-minded in dealing with The New York Times and NBC News. In fact, I mocked you about it while you were the White House spokesperson. And you are a better person than I, than I am, than me, whatever the grammatically correct sentence would be, because I know, and I believe you know in your heart, that The New York Times and NBC News, you had to deal with them every day, wanted to hurt the president of the United States. They were looking to hurt him. Yet you treated them OK. Why doesn't Snow just leave them out?

SNOW: Well, look, I made it clear, especially behind the scenes, when I had heartache with a question or with a story, and I did it also from the podium. The fact is, as White House press secretary, you've got to deal with the press. And the other thing you've got to do is to create an opening to get facts out in place of innuendo. Heaven knows I tried to do a lot with successes in Iraq. And each day, I would open briefings by telling them the situation's changing, situation's changing...

O'REILLY: And they never print it.

SNOW: And months later, it's finally getting out.

O'REILLY: Did President Bush know he was getting jobbed by The Times and NBC News? Did he know? Did he realize it?

SNOW: Oh, he is keenly aware of what's going on in the press.


SNOW: Yes.

O'REILLY: I have to make an announcement here: Tony Snow is now going to become the regular substitute for "The Radio Factor." I mean, this must be a big thrill for you, Snow. More than 400 radio stations...

SNOW: Heartbeat still, you know, I couldn't get it on my own.

O'REILLY: And we're very pleased that you're going to be filling in for me on a regular basis on "The Radio Factor."

Now final question: How are you feeling? Everybody — I get e-mail all the time: "How's Tony Snow feeling?"

SNOW: Tell everybody I'm feeling really great. Like everybody on the East Coast, I've had the flu over the last week. I'm a little raspy, but am recovered from that. Was a good thing, because I think I'm going on the radio tomorrow.

O'REILLY: You're going on for "The Radio Factor." And smartest callers in the business. But the cancer thing, OK with it? Everything's going all right?

SNOW: Still in remission, my friend.

O'REILLY: All right, Tony. Thanks very much. Good to see you.

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