The changing of the White House press secretary guard – Fox News’ smooth Tony Snow for the beleaguered Scott McClellan – underscores the reality of being the president’s point man to the Washington press corps. To be effective, that person has to be a performer – and an insider. McClellan was neither.
Ari Fleischer, McClellan’s predecessor, did it fairly well. He took his lumps, but he was nobody’s piñata. Mike McCurry, one of Bill Clinton’s press secretaries, did it even better.
The job is about more than “briefing.” It’s about having a presence and being able to give as well as you get from the often preening, gotcha crowd always on the prowl for conflict. A disarming wit is a prerequisite for the performance. As is the intuition to know the difference between a self-serving sound bite sure to make the evening news shows – and a red-flag comment sure to cost the administration globally. There’s good reason to assume that everybody who matters is paying attention.
But you can’t be all sizzle and no steak. The press secretary has to be more than just a better jouster. He has to be obviously in command of the facts. That only happens if he’s a player behind the scenes. He can’t just be a flack sent out to stay on rote message.
Especially now, with the president’s poll ratings and credibility tanking to Nixonian depths. Let’s just say that Snow, a proven performer, had some leverage to assure he would be an insider with all the access he needs.