As we mentioned earlier, Tony Snow had a rare opportunity last night at the National Press Club to turn the tables on reporters. Snow took the stage with David Gregory, Terry Hunt, Mark Knoller, April Ryan, Sheryl Stolberg and Richard Wolffe for a discussion on life as a White House correspondent.
Lots of great comments and notes when you click below, but first some excellent news announced last night:
In a more serious moment, Snow also announced the launch of a very generous general scholarship in honor of Deborah Orin, a New York Post correspondent who died last month. An anonymous donor funded the effort through the WHCA. Two $5,000 tuition grants will be awarded to graduate journalism students entering the Medill School at Northwestern, Orin’s alma mater, and officials say it eventually will be an endowed scholarship.
Click below to find out what David Gregory thinks about cameras in the briefing room and how his kids react to his being on TV, what Wolffe thinks of media blogs and sleeping in different beds every night, what magazines Knoller reads at Barnes & Noble, what they all think about hate mail and what’s their best story.
-Bob Schieffer called the evening a “man bites dog story” and said it would give Snow a “chacne to get even” with all the journos who pester him every day.
-Richard Wolffe admitted that he gets nervous before presidential press briefings.
-Everyone called Mark Knoller the press corps’ historian. “If you ever want to know how many times the president has had jello for breakfast, he’s your guy,” said Schieffer.
-Knoller talked about how different White House coverage has become since the Ford administration, recalling a story when then-White House press secretary Ron Nessen would slam his briefcase shut and storm out of the briefing room when frustrated. With television cameras, “that could never happen today,” Knoller said.
-Re: the idea of removing the cameras from the briefing room, Snow said that you simply “can’t anymore.” Hunt, however, said that, if he could, “I would,” and threw in a dig at reporters who “play to the cameras” (the comment seemed, at least in the audience’s mind, to be directed towards Gregory). Gregory disagreed, calling Hunt’s comments “wrong and actionable, frankly” (Laughter). Even more jokes: “If people think that people pander to the cameras, well, I can’t control what Tony does.” Gregory made the case for keeping the cameras, arguing that “this is democracy in action.” Ryan also supports cameras. “Thank God for cameras,” Ryan said. “The American people need to see and they help keep people accountable.” Stolberg said “something is lost as a result of cameras.”
-Snow called the White House beat one of Washington’s “toughest beats” because you aren’t given the kind of free access that one has on Capitol Hill. Stolberg agreed, calling her job “utterly constraining” and joking (a little) that Snow is “the most useless press secretary ever.”
-Wolffe noted that he found it odd that so many blogs focus on media criticism, calling it “interesting, given all the things you could comment on.”
-Re: the legendary Gregory v. Insert White House Press Secretary Here battles, Gregory said, “I don’t see it as abrow beating or debating…I try to provoke him to get something close to the real deal…Follow-ups and pointed questions are appropriate…I’m trying to push him to what would be more candor than he was prepared to offer.” He later went on to add: “It’s not about me and Tony. It’s not personal. It’s about the fact that we are adversaries but not enemies. There is a natural tension there.”
-Re: White House pool travel…”I saw China four times before I saw the Great Wall,” said Hunt. “You don’t always see the exotic sites, just the press filing room.” Wolffe called trips “exhausting. You get jet-jagged, you’re sleeping in a different bed every night–and not because we’re doing something strange.” But he added that “foreign trips can be some of the best insight ever.” Stolberg said that Crawford, Texas is her favorite trip — “the best kept secret in Washington.” “The press corps is relaxed.” Gregory didn’t like Crawford’s 400 degree weather, but Snow liked the free ice cream.
-When asked by Snow what kind of reaction his kids give Gregory as a result of being on TV, Gregory joked, “not enough. My kids seem very caught up in their many personal needs.” Snow said that his “kids don’t give a rip” that he’s on TV. “They see me on TV and that means that I’m not at home.”
-Wolffe’s daughter was most impressed by the M&M presidents he brought home one day. Before that moment, she wanted to be an artist, after that, president of the United States. Her platform? “I want everyone to have presidential M&Ms.”
-Biggest laughs of the night came when Knoller, speaking about the benefits of anonymity that come with being a radio guy, said, “I can thumb through the adult magazines at Barnes & Noble and no one knows who you are.” After an uncomfortable laughter, Knoller felt compelled to add, “It was a joke!”
-Re: Hate mail…Wolffe said that “the hate mail that makes me feel most inadequate is the hate mail I’m cc’d on.” Gregory recalled a story in Nevada, when a sweet lady approached him and said, “I just want you to know that I think you’re ridiculous. I can’t stand you and I never watch you.” She then asked to take her picture with him. Ryan admitted that “I’m so fragile” and said that she gets “a lot of ‘you should be fired’ email.” Stolberg: “Working for the New York Times, there is no shortage of hate mail.”
-Re: their best stories. Wolffe: “getting behind the scenes at the G8 summit in Russia.” Ryan: “still encountering everyday my best story.” Gregory: Election night 2000 “was most memorable…not a great moment for journalism but a very exciting story…I remember telling my wife the next morning that ‘I don’t think I’ll ever cover a story that big’ and then Sept. 11 happened.” Knoller: “I like to thikn that I haven’t written my best story yet.” Hunt: “the president’s 2 secret trips to Baghdad” and the “throat stopping, jaw dropping day when President Clinton said, ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’ That was a mind blowing experience.” Stolberg: her profile of Jonas Salk.
Re: how great their jobs are. Wolffe: “Hard to beat.” Ryan: “best job I’ve ever had.” Gregory: “the kind of job and experience that one can never take away from you.” Knoller: “I miss it when I’m not there. When I’m on vacation I can’t wait to get back.” Hunt: “I love the adrenaline of the story.” Stolberg: “rare privilege…you really are a witness to history.” Snow: “a privilege and a whole lot of fun.”