At Mock Briefing, Less Give-and-Take and More Sharing

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Tonight, we have truly what is a 'man bites dog' story," host Bob Schieffer told the crowd at the National Press Club.

That, at least, was the plan: The "dogs" -- NBC News's David Gregory and five other White House correspondents -- had agreed to submit to questioning by the "man," White House press secretary Tony Snow, who usually is at the receiving end of such grillings.

But Snow wouldn't bite. "For those of you who are expecting theatrical savagery on my part, forget about it," Snow advised the crowd of 250 and a live C-SPAN audience Tuesday night. Instead, the hour turned into a mutual rehabilitation session. Snow argued that reporters are not the jackals that the public supposes them to be. The reporters reciprocated with warm tales about covering the Bush White House; one spoke about the perk of seeing Snow's bare knees.

"If there is a flash of tempers between me and Tony, it's not about him and me, it's nothing personal," said Gregory, whose televised clashes with Snow have become legend.

Snow grinned. "What you see quite often at the briefings are sharp exchanges, but David's right: It's not personal," the press secretary agreed. "I not only like but admire everybody else sitting up here on this podium. It is a real pleasure and a privilege to work with them, to get to know them. . . . It is a wondrous thing."

For those requiring something even more cloying, there was a large tray of cookies at the exit.

Only occasionally did a barb pierce the evening's pleasantries. "How often have you gone home and you said, 'Man, I'll tell you what, if I could do it over again, I really would have been nicer to that press secretary?' " Snow queried.

"When I have something to announce, I'll announce it," Gregory replied, using a standard line of President Bush's spokesmen.

The New York Times' Sheryl Stolberg smiled sweetly at Snow as she confided to the crowd, "I often tease Tony and tell him that he's the most useless press secretary ever."

"Thank you," Snow responded with an aw-shucks look.

Mostly, though, the journalists grappled with one another rather than with Snow. "This will surprise you, but I think there are some people who play to the cameras," the Associated Press's Terry Hunt said of the White House briefings.

"No!" said CBS Radio's Mark Knoller, in mock surprise.

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