LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Former White House press secretary, journalist Tony Snow, has died. He was 53 years old. Mr. Snow was an editorial writer and talk show host before becoming President George W. Bush's third press secretary. Snow stepped down late last summer after recurrence of colon cancer. NPR's David Folkenflik has the story.
(Soundbite of Tony Snow playing the flute)
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Let it be known, Tony Snow was probably the first - and to date the only - White House press secretary who played a raucous blues flute. Snow lived life easily, enjoyed it too. His genial presence accompanied his deep conservatism whether on television talking about the Valerie Plame CIA leak case that consumed much of the Bush White House's second term.
(Soundbite of TV show "The O'Reilly Factor")
Mr. TONY SNOW (Former White House Press Secretary & Fox News Anchor): She wasn't a covert agent. She wasn't compromised. As a result what you're doing is possibly sending a senior administration official off about a faulty memory over something that wasn't a crime.
FOLKENFLIK: Or when he fenced with reporters from behind the press secretary's lectern from that same White House, as he did here in 2006 in calling for an apology from Democratic Senator John Kerry.
(Soundbite of Press Briefing)
Mr. SNOW: And accusing Republicans of dirty tricks. I mean, this is helpful advice. We're trying to help you out. We are throwing you a lifeline, buddy. Just say you're sorry. It's not hard.
(Soundbite of laughter and chatter)
Unidentified Man: Lifesaver Tony Snow.
FOLKENFLIK: Tony Snow first joined the White House staff under President Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, in 1991 as a speech writer, then became a newspaper and NPR commentator where he was a critic of President Clinton. In this puckish commentary from 1993, he was urging a balance between work and life.
(Soundbite of NPR commentary)
Mr. SNOW: For seven months, the White House has looked like a college campus at exam week with kids gobbling NoDoz like candy, cramming facts and figures into mushy tired skulls, and surrendering the ability to perform any mental function higher than rote memorization.
FOLKENFLIK: Tony Snow knew something about facts and figures. He grew up in Ohio, the son of a high school teacher and an inner city nurse. After graduating from Davidson College in North Carolina, he taught school in Kenya. He later became an editorial writer at several papers before becoming the editorial page editor of the conservative Washington Times. In 1996, Fox News made its debut and so did Snow as the moderator of its Sunday's issues show, a position he held for six years.
In 2006, President Bush named him to replace press secretary Scott McClellan whose credibility was shot with reporters when it was revealed he'd been misled into defending White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby on the Valerie Plame leak case. Snow was a far more assertive and comfortable presence, a conduit for the president to conservatives, but also to his former peers in the press core. In this interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition, Snow bristled at the idea he was holding anything back from reporters.
(Soundbite of NPR interview)
Mr. SNOW: My view is a press conference actually ought to be a place where we transmit as much information as we can and make news. I understand that everybody out there has the same objective which is to try to write news stories and get good information. Quite often the drama in the press room has to do with the reporters knowing that there is a question that the press secretary cannot answer, but asking it anyway.
FOLKENFLIK: Snow had been diagnosed with colon cancer before going to work at the White House. But in early 2007, a growth in his stomach proved cancerous. After months of treatment, he announced he was returning to private life.
Mr. SNOW: I'll miss it. I - you know, everybody talks about what a horrible job it is to brief the press. I love these briefings!
FOLKENFLIK: And so, we'll leave you with another taste of the other Tony Snow.
(Soundbite of Tony Snow playing the flute)
FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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