BRIT HUME: All right. When we come back with our panel, how did Tony Snow do in his first outing in front of the full press corps under the lights? More with the all-stars after a break.
(Clip of Tony Snow with Helen Thomas)
HELEN THOMAS: Are all of these stories untrue that we've been reading for the last several days, that millions of Americans have been wiretapped?
TONY SNOW: Well, there is -- OK. Well, let's -- yes.
THOMAS: ... turned over to the government?
SNOW: OK, let's try to segregate the stories here. What he said about the terrorist surveillance program is that these are foreign-to- domestic calls and they were all done within the parameters of the law. He has not commented on the...
THOMAS: He himself has said he didn't obey that law.
SNOW: No, he didn't. What he said is that he has done everything within the confines of the law.
HUME: Well, there was Tony Snow in his first outing as the White House press secretary in front of the cameras, microphones and a full- dressed briefing. And as you see him dealing with Helen Thomas, who somehow had gotten into her head that there had been a story somewhere that said that millions of Americans had had their telephones tapped. There's no such story that we know of. Tony did his best to sort that out.
But it was something that all of us who have known Tony a long time have been waiting to see how it would go. How did it go?
MORT KONDRACKE: Yes, I thought it went very well.
KONDRACKE: Well, for one thing, it's a total difference from Scott McClellan. I mean, Scott McClellan's pattern was to repeat his talking points over, and over, and over again, and never divert from them at all.
I mean, Tony, you had parroting with the press, in a polite way, you know, engaging and all that. I mean, somebody said, "What do you need these tax cuts for if the economy is doing so well?" And he said, "Are you saying that we have too much prosperity?" I mean, that's kind of a novel way for the White House briefer to approach things.
FRED BARNES: It's also an ignorant question. Jeez!
HUME: Well, I know, but if he only answered the questions that weren't ignorant, the briefings would be short, I suppose it's fair to argue.
BARNES: Well, that's not bad, though, if they were shorter. Look, Tony did a couple of things that were good. One, I thought he explained and defended the president's speech and immigration program very, very well, and completely knocked down the idea -- very articulately knocked down the idea that what the president was offering was an amnesty, when, of course, it's not an amnesty. He was very good on that.
And Tony, the difference is between Tony and Scott McClellan is Tony's a star. You know, Tony -- you know how some people really pop on television? I don't know, maybe they should. I've said they ought to shut down the TV at the briefing. But after watching it today, I'm not so sure.
Tony really comes across on television. And, well, we'll have to see how much this helps President Bush. It certainly helped Tony.
MARA LIASSON: Yes. Look, he's not just a star; he's a new model press secretary, which is he came in with a fully formed persona. He was well- known. He was a celebrity before he got behind the podium.
Usually, it's people you've never heard of before, they're kind of anonymous. They stick to the topic points. They don't want to get out too far, or be too colorful, and he certainly has no compunction about that. So I think that that's helpful.
And it seemed a more relaxed, jovial atmosphere in that room today. He got asked a lot of personal questions; I don't think that's going to continue, but that, you know, makes him into a sympathetic figure and, perhaps, can make the press...
HUME: You're talking about the moment at which -- we showed it earlier in the broadcast -- he was asked a question about the armband that he wears, which was given to him by Lance Armstrong. This, of course, relates to cancer research. And Tony had a bout with cancer. And in discussing that, he was quite emotional.
What about that? Is that a good thing for an official like that to do or be, or not?
LIASSON: I don't think in general it's a good thing that the pres secretary's personal life becomes a subject of the briefings. However, on his first day out, you know, I think it's OK, and it certainly humanizes him for the press. And I can't imagine...
HUME: He got a round of applause after all that.
LIASSON: He got a round of applause, and it's not going to continue. Every day is not going to be with questions about Tony Snow's personal life.
KONDRACKE: Yes, but let's face it. This is honeymoon time. And, you know, there's going to be -- it will end. It will end quite quickly.
LIASSON: Probably tomorrow.
HUME: Did you think that the questions were less fanged than...
KONDRACKE: Yes, I did. I mean, I fell a little less combative than they usually are, and they'll get more combative. I thought that he did an especially good job tightrope-walking on the issue of the "USA Today" story. He said, "We're not going to confirm or deny that story." Then he started talking about it and reciting what...
HUME: What was in the story.
KONDRACKE: ... what was in the story. But he also said -- and I think this is great -- we don't have any obligation to make our intelligence-gathering transparent. Al Qaeda doesn't believe in transparency. What Al Qaeda believes in is mayhem, and the president has a constitutional obligation and heartfelt determination to make sure we fight it. That's great. That's good stuff.
HUME: Tony must have done well, because it's not every night that Mort gets in here and quotes the president's press secretary and reads it out loud from...
BARNES: Reads the transcript, yes. Well, look, this was opening day, but it's a long season. So far, he's 1-0.
HUME: All right. So now let's talk a little bit about whether, in fact, this kind of briefing, in which the press secretary is a more aggressive defender and more sort of, you know, an advocate...
HUME: ... is likely to work. Does this work? Does it overshadow the president? What...
BARNES: Well, no, look, you can't overshadow a president. Obviously, Tony, being a media star, is going to get a lot of attention, and the White House ought to use him to the hilt. He ought to be on every television show he can possibly be on, because most people are not going to watch the briefing.
And in the evening news, as we've done tonight, people are not going to be playing a lot of that briefing. So I think they really just have to make the most of it. And Tony's very good at this.
HUME: There were a few slipups. How did he deal with those?
KONDRACKE: Well, he acknowledged that he'd made a slipup when he presumed to say what the Senate was going to do on the immigration...
HUME: Right. How does that play? How does that play? How does that...
LIASSON: ... that he admitted? That's good, good, good. Anytime you can...
HUME: Better to do that, right, than to...
LIASSON: Sure. Look, when you're at 31 percent in the polls, how can any of this hurt?
LIASSON: How can any of this hurt?
KONDRACKE: And it so beats the alternative. I mean, you know, being affirmative so beats the crouch.