A Growing Separation of Press and State

White House press secretary Tony Snow trekked across Pennsylvania Avenue to brief.
White House press secretary Tony Snow trekked across Pennsylvania Avenue to brief. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The White House press corps spent its first day in exile yesterday, banished from the White House compound for the first time since the John Adams presidency while the West Wing briefing room undergoes a renovation.

As if to deepen the isolation, press secretary Tony Snow, stepping over some plywood and into the new digs on Jackson Place NW for his daily briefing, adopted the Borscht Belt comics' practice of answering questions with questions.

Does President Bush think the cease-fire in Israel and Lebanon will undermine support for Hezbollah?

"Well, we're going to find out, aren't we?" Snow replied.

"Did the president call for the respect of sovereignty by both sides?"

"Respect of sovereignty?" Snow parried.

Does Bush support the Republican candidate for Senate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger?

"Why do you ask?" Snow counterquestioned. "Is there something about the candidate that I should know about that would lead to judgments?"

So we should not assume the president will automatically support Republican nominees?

"Why don't you wait and see what happens?" proposed Snow, citing "peculiar characteristics" in Connecticut.

Snow's performance, in addition to making life even more miserable for candidate Schlesinger (6 percent support in a new poll that finds Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Democratic nominee Ned Lamont neck-and-neck), fits neatly in a renewed Bush administration effort to keep the media at a safe distance.

Bush has traveled out of the Washington area at least seven times this year without a press plane, including four times in the past month to fundraisers closed to the press. This development, devised by a secretive White House and enabled by cash-strapped media outlets, has helped Bush to stage a series of father-protector photo ops with few of those pesky questions that reporters tend to ask.

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