Friday, July 18, 2008

Tim Russert and Tony Snow: Two Great Men, Two Different Reactions

Tim Russert and Tony Snow were models of honesty and intelligence on the Washington Political Media scene. Both men came from humble backgrounds, worked hard, demonstrated remarkable integrity and became tremendously respected and influential figures in their respective roles in Washington journalism. Russert and Snow were grounded in strong traditional values enjoying a rare kind of integrity so lacking in much of the cynical, chattering world of the news business in D.C.

Both Tim and Tony worked on rather different sides of the fence as political appointees and members of the journalistic profession. Tim Russert was a Democrat working with Senator Patrick Monyhan and New York Governor, Mario Cuomo. Tony Snow worked for both President George H.W. Bush as a speech writer and President George W. Bush as Press Secretary. Russert's chief journalistic accomplishment was heading NBC's Washington Bureau and hosting the venerated Sunday issues program, Meet the Press. Tony Snow worked as an editorial writer and chief for several notable newspapers including the Detroit News and Washington Times, helped establish the reputation of the Fox News network hosting its version of Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday. Tony also became a popular syndicated talk radio host. Though their approaches and stances were quiet different, both men demonstrated tremendous intelligence and insight. Both men were professionals of the highest order.

So why was both men's untimely deaths covered so differently? Tim Russert received a wonderful memorial by official Washington and the media. His passing was treated with tremendous respect and awe for the man's accomplishments. Only former Presidents in recent memory drew as much attention in death as Tim Russert. Though the heartbreak and shock was tremendous for Tony Snow's passing, his death was a much smaller event and coverage of his passing was downright insulting and belittling in most newspapers through out the country since they relied on the wretched contempt shown for Tony Snow by the Associated Press whose writer, Douglass K. Daniel trashed Snow's reputation and accomplishments in writing, "With a quick-from-the lip repartee, broadcaster's good looks and a relentlessly bright outlook, if not always command of the facts -- he became a popular figure around the country to the delight of his White House bosses." The article went on to ridicule Snow in writing, "Snow brought partisan zeal and the skills of a sesoned performer to the task of explaining and defending the president's politicies," and even more stated, "Critics (who, name names) suggested that Snow was turning the traditionally informational daily briefing into a personality-driven event short on facts and long on confrontation."

These assertions reported as news not commentary by the Associated Press are hardly objective writings on the life of a distinguished, albeit it controversial to some, leader in the profession. It's interesting to note how this article turns the tables on Snow accusing him of being confrontational when in the course of his daily press briefings he dealt with reports such as Helen Thomas and NBC's David Gregory who were highly belligerent from the get-go with their questioning. When one is put on the defensive right away, does confrontational truly apply?

What Tony Snow did do was often analyze questions he was being asked and flushed out the implicit bias and paritsan assumptions on which such queries were based. This approach is far more instructive than the evasive "no comment" approach so typical of many figures holding his position.

What bitter irony that the rube Snow replaced, Scott McClellan got more press for his supposed tell-all book which truly was strong on assertion, weak on detail, got more press cynically promoting his poor book, than a truly unique person in the field got in his passing.

Do we remember how the Washington Press Corp mopped the floor with Scott McClellan? Those who thought they could do the same with Tony Snow quickly found out otherwise and though many disagreed with him, most at least respected him as a fine person and dedicated professional.

Hopefully, there are some fine professionals working their way up in the profession who will bring unique talents to their jobs the way Tim Russert and Tony Snow have. Meanwhile, the loss of both men in such a short period of time leaves a tremendous void. Their integrity and values will be missed nearly as much as the men themselves.

God bless Tim Russert and Tony Snow. May all of us find lessons learned from how both men lived their lives, treated their loved ones, and approached their jobs.

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