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Just Call Him Tony 'I Don't Know' Snow

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

To paraphrase Howard Baker's immortal question: What didn't Tony Snow know, and when didn't he know it?

The answer: A lot, and frequently.

When will President Bush roll out his new Iraq policy? "We do not know," Snow said at yesterday's White House briefing.

When did Bush decide to postpone the speech? "I don't know exactly when," the president's press secretary said again.

Has everyone working on the policy read the Iraq Study Group report? "I don't know," came the refrain. "I'm assuming -- but I don't know."

After Snow spoke multiple times of the "urgency" surrounding Iraq, CNN's Elaine Quijano asked him, innocently, "Tony, what does 'urgency' mean?"

"Well, I don't know," he said. "You guys keep using the term."

Quijano pointed out that Snow himself had used it, forcing Snow finally to spill the beans. " 'Urgency' means that you want it done as quickly as possible, and you want it done right," he proffered.

When Snow took over as White House press secretary earlier this year, reporters found it refreshing that he was willing to admit when he didn't know something. This has become rather less refreshing as Snow, while claiming access to Bush's sanctum sanctorum, continues to use the phrase -- more than 400 times so far in televised briefings and interviews. Sometimes, it seems more of a tic than a response; usually, it's a brushoff.

Why so many 'dunnos'? "Because I don't know all," Snow explained, knowingly.

On Monday, reporters wanted to know whether newly confirmed Defense Secretary Robert Gates would attend White House meetings on Iraq policy. "I don't know," said Snow. Would the Iraq experts visiting the White House talk about the Iraq Study Group's particulars with Bush? "I don't know." Was there anything in the report that the administration hadn't already considered? "I don't know. Again, good question. I don't know. I mean, there are some -- again, I don't know."

In recent days, the "I don't know" reply has greeted queries about whether the administration would talk to Iran and Syria, Pakistan's plans for Kashmir, benchmarks for reducing violence in Iraq, the process of preparing the federal budget, when Bush might name a new U.N. ambassador, and whether the president would address the nation about Iraq. Even the seemingly obvious -- whether Bush would be outlining "a different course in Iraq" -- stumped Snow. "I just -- I don't know," he said.


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