MY VIEW/Reed Galen – Tony’s way


Tony Snow did not have a meteoric career. He slugged it out. He was an editorial writer for the Detroit News – editorial writing is among the most anonymous of writing jobs at any newspaper. He moved to the Washington Times and then got a gig at the White House as the head of the speechwriting department for George H.W. Bush.

That job – even though it ended with the thud of the 1992 election – served him in very good stead when he want back to the White House as press secretary. He understood that if you’re going to be on the senior staff, you’d better have sharp elbows under the hoop.

For example, based upon his previous White House experience he insisted on having “walk-in authority.” That is, he had the implicit permission of the President to attend any meeting he, Tony, thought necessary.

He told me that the reason he was so insistent on that was to draw a distinction between what he brought to the podium in the briefing room and what Scott McClellan had not brought: An assumption on the part of the press corps that he knew more about how a policy had been developed than he was telling them; that he had some context to his answers to their questions.

He didn’t want “walk-in authority” to swagger around the other White House staff to prove he was a SOMEbody; he wanted it so he could do his job better for the President.

That was Tony’s way.

When he first became ill, he asked me to substitute for him on his radio program. I was thrilled and honored to do that two or three times. In spite of the pain and horror of the surgery and chemo, he called me to tell me how much he had enjoyed listening to me and how he appreciated my doing that for him.

That, too, was Tony’s way.

When Tony was hosting the two-hour weekend show on Fox News Channel, Bob Beckel and I were partnered. Once, when we were the final segment, Tony asked me if I could come to his office for a few minutes.

That was when he told me about the offer to go to the White House. He asked me what I thought – having given up my private life to go to Iraq. He told me he had gone back and read my last regular Mullings column before I had left.

He had printed it out and after ruffling around on his desk which was typically piled high with papers, books, and magazines he pulled it out. This was highlighted:

I am not being heroic. If you believe, as I do, that we are at war and if you believe, as I do, that if your country asks you to use your skills in the waging of that war, then there is only one answer: “When do I leave?”

He asked me if, after the fact, I still felt that way. I said that writing about not being a hero was true. I told him the best any of us could reasonable expect, if presented with the opportunity, was to be a patriot.

He agreed and said that if they could work out the details, he would probably accept the offer.

Being a patriot was Tony’s way.

I happened to catch a White House briefing on television and thought Tony looked thin. I called his office, told him his shirt collar looked too big and asked how he was feeling. He laughed and said I had uncovered one of his secrets: When he hadn’t been the cleaners to pick up his shirts, he had to wear a “pre-surgery” shirt.

I knew – and he knew I knew – that something was terribly wrong, but he didn’t want to burden me with it.

When I was traveling around with Fred Thompson, Tony would call now and again to ask how I was doing. He was on a heavy speaking schedule, trying to earn enough money to leave his family in good financial shape.

It was typical of Tony, while putting every bit of his diminishing strength into providing for his family, to be concerned and interested in how I was doing.

As Mike Allen of “Politico” said on Fox News Sunday “Tony Snow was a mench;” A good man. Not a Saint. Just being the best person he could possibly be.

That, in the end, was Tony’s way.