Tuesday, Oct. 24, while Talk Radio hosts were broadcasting from a large tent in front of the White House, I had my first interview with any of the 12 presidential press secretaries I have covered: Tony Snow. Here is the transcript of that interview:
Q: I am face-to-face with one of the most colorful of all of the White House press secretaries I have ever covered. Welcome.
MR. SNOW: (laughter) Thank you. It’s good to be here, Les. And by the way, I think you’re one of the most colorful reporters I’ve ever worked with.
Q: Thank you very much. I have 10 questions. Am I correct in my assumption that you are aware that daily newspapers – almost all of which are editorially Democrat-inclined – are almost all suffering serious losses, in both circulation and ad revenue?
MR. SNOW: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s one of the big stories right now. What’s going on is that the former mainstream media has been hemorrhaging readership. It’s heartbreaking for me because I started in newspapers. But you take a look at it, there are –
Q: So did I (started in newspapers)
MR. SNOW: There are major and continuous declines. And I think you’ve seen that also in some of things that are going on in terms of broadcast TV. Although you still have the big television network news broadcasts over the years, their viewership has begun slipping, not only in terms of percentage of the population, but overall numbers.
You know we’re entering the Wild West when it comes to the media. We got a lot of news media and big changes are in play.
Q: Am I correct in my assumption that you are aware that the Old Big Media TV networks, ABC, CBS and NBC – which once had more than 90 percent of all TV viewers in the nation – are now reduced to around 30 percent – which led NBC to those massive job cuts?
MR. SNOW: Well, I was just making that point as a matter of fact. Again: We’re living in the Wild West. And I think I know where you’re going with this, so I’m going to beat you to the punch, which is: We live in an era where there’s more media competition than ever before. We’ve got talk radio – here we’re surrounded by it – you’ve got blogs, you’ve got the Internet. You have new news sources on the Internet.
And what’s interesting is that in the old days you had to be really rich to get in the news business. You had to be able to afford a TV network, or a radio tower, or a printing press for a newspaper.
Now if you’ve got 50 bucks and a computer, you can get into the game. So we’ve democratized the media, which creates a whole new element of competition that a lot of people aren’t prepared for.
Q: Am I correct in my assumption that it is not only your basic fairness as a person that keeps you from ever refusing to let me ask two questions – but because I represent the New Big Media – on both the Internet newssite WorldNetDaily.com and its 6 million visitors, as well as on talk radio?
MR. SNOW: It’s mostly because I’m always eager to find out what you’re going to ask! (laughter)
Q: A very diplomatic answer! The only network in talk radio that is liberal – “Air America” – has just filed for bankruptcy.
Do you believe this is because the general public has seen so much newspaper, magazine and Old Big Media TV networks that are liberal, or far left, that in talk radio, most people look for the other side of the story from the left wing – which, for so long, dominated U.S. media?
MR. SNOW: I think that’s part of the picture. Also, NPR has been pretty much a liberal radio outlet. A lot of people have gone there and they look at that as their network of choice, although I’ve got to say a lot of conservatives also listen to NPR.
I think if you take a look at how talk radio really got its wings, it’s because people would watch the news or they’d open their newspaper, and they’d see the portrayal of an America they didn’t live in; and they’d hear views that seemed entirely foreign to theirs – and they thought then they were voiceless! And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, comes talk radio. And then you’ve got WorldNetDaily, and you’ve got the blogs, you’ve got the Internet. And you say: Wait a minute; I agree with these guys. They feel a sense of vindication.
Q: You are the first White House press secretary in history to be allowed – while you are in this office – to go out on the campaign circuit; and the first who has ever come to the White House from being a talk radio host; and the first I can recall where there is, on the record, your strong criticism of the presidential administration.
Would I be wrong in my impression that the president, despite your past criticism of him, wanted you in this office enough to provide you the understanding and full support so essential to your being able to function with integrity?
MR. SNOW: Yeah, and there is also an additional element, which is that the president is somebody who is not afraid of hearing different points of view. One of the really stimulating things about working in this White House is that we’re behind closed doors and we’re having policy discussions that are wide open. And you’ve got a lot of pretty smart and very proud people in this administration who are perfectly willing to let their positions be known. And as a result, you get conversations and debates about high level issues that I think are conducted on a higher level than anything I’ve ever been associated with.
So it makes it a great deal of fun. But you know what else it does? It creates not only an admiration but a loyalty to a president, who allows people to play such an active role in his administration.
Q: Presumably, you share with me a genuine sorrow and sympathy that NBC has decided to eliminate 700 jobs. But news reports indicate that NBC says this will save the network $750 million. Question, given that you are paid – for what I understand is at least a 12-hour work day – and given what is paid to our Armed Forces who risk their lives – do you believe it is realistic or justified to pay 700 people $750 million?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to get into reviewing people’s wages. Look, we all make our choices. And frankly, the honor of working in this White House is worth it. And I think if you look at the people who served in our Armed Forces, these are men and women whose heroism includes the fact that they really do have a feeling of service to their country.
So I’ll let private companies decide their own compensation levels. But sometimes in the job you do there are non-monetary compensations. And the rewards for being in this job are unlike anything I have ever experienced. And I think the young men and women in the military right now feel the same way.
Q: If I could just ask you what, as a federal officer, you are paid now, I will not ask what you were paid before. How much did you sacrificed to take this job?
MR. SNOW: I think my salary’s like $162,000 or $163,000.
Q: When you were working for both commercial TV and talk radio, did it ever outrage you that your employers had to pay taxes but that National Public Radio as well as its cousins in TV are not only tax-exempt, but tax-subsidized – and how does the Bush administration justify this when we now have so very many different formats?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, in the old days I never much worried about it because I figure in a competitive environment the best shows are going to win, anyway. As far as any interior discussions about what goes on with Public Broadcasting, I haven’t been part of them, so I’m not competent to comment.
Q: Are you aware that President Clinton, during his entire eight years, only invited talk radio hosts to the White House once – and Mrs. Clinton spoke – but she refused to answer my question or anybody else’s questions? Are you aware of that?
MR. SNOW: No, but thanks for telling me.
Q: And then, Secretary Donna Shalala, when she was answering questions, two hosts – one of them I recall was a hot pistol and master joker named Mark Davis, now of Texas – got into a colossal shouting match, which Davis later confessed was entirely contrived.
MR. SNOW: I don’t think you need to get into shouting matches, or the president and first lady. As you know from the pressroom we have: I enjoy it because even though we sometimes have pretty good exchanges; it’s always civil. And I think the people in the room are having a good time.
Q: Occasionally, you descend to the level of acerbity!
At which Mr. Snow laughed and promised another interview.
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