Save for a few bursts of applause, George Washington University’s Q&A last night with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was unremittingly tame.
On Iraq, the audience heard familiar lines: “I think the President’s right on this stuff,” “Yeah, it’s a war. What did you expect?” and “It would be foolish to say how long this is going to take.” Nevertheless, moderator Frank Sesno, a GW School of Media and Public Affairs professor and former CNN Washington bureau chief, pushed the issue. Sesno raised the question of WMDs and Osama bin Laden, to which Snow coldly replied, “We’re arguing against things that have become folkloric.” Snow also admitted the huge challenges facing the Bush administration in Iraq, and, in what must be disheartening for a press secretary to say, said, "A soundbite isn’t going to win this. A soundbite isn’t going to regain confidence."
The former Fox radio host had two comments of note on the press: First, he doesn't feel that anyone can be "objective" in reporting. "God's objective. He knows what the truth is," he told the packed auditorium. "Everything else is scratching at the surface." Second, the White House is continuing its efforts to bypass the mainstream media when possible: As part of his messaging for the State of the Union speech this week, Snow hosted a conference call with 25 to 30 bloggers to discuss the President's agenda and speech.
There were a few personal revelations to be gleaned from Snow, who got chocked up when he was discussing his battle with cancer. "You're only granted so many blessings," he explained.
When Snow was still a part of the conservative press corps, President Bush referred to him by the nickname of, “Antonio Nieve.” Now he just calls him “Snow” or “Snowbird.” When it comes to TV, Snow doesn’t watch Jon Stewart (“I can get a few yucks, too, if I put my mind to it,” said Snow), and he thinks The West Wing’s portrayal of the White House is “an absurd idiocy.”
What was perhaps most surprising was Snow’s audience support. Although Bush’s approval ratings hover somewhere in the 30’s, GW managed to select an overwhelmingly pro-war student audience. According to organizers, the event was the most popular in the School of Media and Public Affairs’ history—900 people applied for roughly 300 seats in the Jack Morton Auditorium—and, when Sesno took an informal poll to gauge the audience support for Bush’s proposed troop surge, a clear majority of students raised their hands. Students applauded Snow’s statement on the importance of keeping the media away from public officials’ families, including that of Vice President Cheney’s daughter, Mary, who is pregnant and a lesbian. At the same time, though, the crowd also applauded mention of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Snow also explained that, as White House press secretary, he now has more time to spend with his family—at least in his current role he gets some weekends off.