Newscaster crosses to other side as press secretary for Bush

THE US president George Bush named the newscaster Tony Snow as the new White House press secretary yesterday, in his latest move aimed at shaking up his staff and breathing new life into his presidency.

Introducing his new press secretary, Mr Bush said: "My job is to make decisions. And his job is to help explain those decisions to the press corps and the American people."

The Bush White House has long had a frosty relationship with the media, considering the press corps a nuisance that must be grudgingly tolerated at best. Mr Bush hinted at that when he joked yesterday that "Tony already knows most of you, and he's agreed to take the job anyway".

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Mr Snow, the host of Fox News, accepted the position after being assured that he would have genuine access to policy decisions and a stake in the White House's internal policy debates.

In the past, Mr Snow has had some harsh things to say about the president.

He has called Mr Bush "something of an embarrassment," a leader who has "lost control of the federal budget", the architect of a "listless domestic policy" and a man who has "a habit of singing from the political correctness hymnal."

His appointment may go some way towards blunting claims that Mr Bush prefers to surround himself with yes-men, bound more to the president through personal loyalty than any particular aptitude.

Mr Bush saluted his new press secretary, hailing him as a man "not afraid to express his own opinions. For those of you who've read his columns and listened to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me. I asked him about those comments, and he said, 'you should have heard what I said about the other guy'.

"I like his perspective. I think you're going to like it, too."

Mr Snow responded: "These are times that are going to be very challenging. We've got a lot of big issues ahead and we've got a lot of important things that all of us are going to be covering together. And I am very excited and I can't wait."

Apart from a spell as director of speech-writing for the current president's father, when he occupied the role, Mr Snow has spent his career as a journalist. He cut his teeth on the Greensboro Record in North Carolina before working in Virginia and subsequently as a syndicated columnist for the Detroit News and USA Today, before he joined Fox in 1996.

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George Stephanopolous, who was adviser to the former president Bill Clinton and who now presents on ABC News, said: "President Bush said all the right things at today's announcement, and Tony has the chops of a successful press secretary.

"But after Snow's honeymoon, will he really have the promised access? And can he make good on the openness promised today?

"Only if the whole White House wants him to. He'll also need some good luck. Good news and rising poll numbers create good press, not the other way around."

Mr Bush enjoys - if that term can be used so loosely - an approval rating of just 32 per cent, far below the 40 per cent that has traditionally been considered the point below which an administration cannot dip before risking sinking.

Mr Snow's predecessor, Scott McClellan, was well-liked in the press room, but his credibility had been worn away by three years of daily briefings and a growing suspicion he was blind-sided by the White House on matters such as the leaking of the identity of former CIA officer Valerie Plame.