Wash. Post ignored critical response to Snow appointment

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

Washington Post staff writers Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher quoted several White House aides who characterized the appointment of Tony Snow as press secretary as "proof that he [Bush] is open to dissenting opinions," recognition on the part of the president that "he needs to do a better job communicating," and an effort to "wipe the slate clean." But despite the chorus of criticism from Democrats and others in response to Bush's choice, VandeHei and Fletcher presented no contrasting opinions.

In an April 27 article on President Bush's selection of Fox News personality Tony Snow as the new White House press secretary, Washington Post staff writers Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher quoted several White House aides who characterized the appointment as "proof that he [Bush] is open to dissenting opinions," recognition on the part of the president that "he needs to do a better job communicating," and an effort to "wipe the slate clean." But despite the chorus of criticism from Democrats and others in response to Bush's choice, VandeHei and Fletcher presented no contrasting opinions.

In the first paragraph of the article, VandeHei and Fletcher reported that, according to White House aides, the decision to tap Snow for the position "reflected a consensus among the president and his top advisers that his White House operation has been too insular." VandeHei and Fletcher went on to note that Snow "will be the first outsider to become part of Bush's revamped inner circle." Having established the administration's contention that Snow's appointment represents an effort at greater openness and diversity of opinion, VandeHei and Fletcher then quoted several Bush aides reinforcing this point:

"We want fresh thinking, to charge the batteries, and passionate participation," said Dan Bartlett, a top Bush adviser. "There is a lot of value added in Tony coming on board and helping us internally with his own views and ideas. It fits into the mold."

[...]

Mark McKinnon, a Bush political adviser, predicted that Snow's long experience in Washington would give him more credibility with the White House press corps.

A variety of Bush advisers suggested that the president is not interested in altering his major decisions or philosophy, but that he recognizes he needs to do a better job communicating in Washington and beyond.

"The president's message and vision are firmly in place and are not going to change," McKinnon said. "But it still helps to have a new messenger. It helps to wipe the slate clean."

[...]

"I know there is a perception that we disdain the media as a whole," Bartlett said. "I do not believe that. There have been some issues that strained the relationship, particularly when it comes at a time of war." He said the Snow pick was part of an effort to "improve our relationship with the press."

At one point in the article, VandeHei and Fletcher reported that Snow had previously been critical of the White House on numerous occasions. Having cited some of those statements, they noted Bush's claim that "Snow's selection is proof that he is open to dissenting opinions." Even the article's headline -- "Snow Pick May Signal Less Insular White House" -- supported the White House's repeated characterization of the appointment.

In the last paragraph, VandeHei and Fletcher included a quote from Towson University political science professor Martha Joynt Kumar, who predicted that Snow "should provide a smooth presence at the podium." Kumar went on to make the point that such appointments are often cosmetic: "[T]he problems that presidents have are political problems and policy problems, not press problems. But it is often the press problems that get addressed."

But, unlike other news outlets, the Post article omitted specific criticism of the decision to appoint Snow. For instance, the April 27 article by New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg, "A Different Press Secretary," included comments from Bush aides and supporters highlighting Snow's "credibility" and "outsider perspective." But in contrast with the Post, Rutenberg noted that Democrats had responded critically to the selection, particularly in light of Snow's roots at Fox News:

Even as Democratic groups sent out e-mail messages highlighting some of Mr. Snow's harsher analyses of the president, they said it should not mask his loyalty to his party and his new boss.

The groups were also quick to note Mr. Snow's connection to the Fox News Channel, which is where administration officials tend to show up for interviews in times of trouble, as Vice President Dick Cheney did after he accidentally shot a hunting partner last winter.

Mr. Snow's career change also might not be what Fox News executives want in terms of their public relations defense against criticism that their network is philosophically sympathetic to Mr. Bush. As Karen Finney, the Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, put it Wednesday, "To our mind he is just moving from one part of the conservative infrastructure to another."

An April 27 article by Associated Press staff writer Jennifer Loven similarly noted that the Democratic National Committee had "said Snow's appointment means 'truth still snowed in' in the Bush administration." Further, in an April 27 article, "Guffaws About a Fox Guarding the White House," Los Angeles Times staff writer Matea Gold quoted Finney calling Snow's selection "an interdepartmental move from one part of the conservative infrastructure to another."

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The Washington Post
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Jim VandeHei
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