Tony Snow 1955-2008

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Looking ahead to the weekend, I was telling listeners Friday that Fox News Sunday and CBS' Face the Nation may experience a serious uptick in viewers as the election season plays out.

The reason: the decision to give Tom Brokaw the Meet the Press chair for the rest of the year, while heartwarming, is not going to work out well in actual practice.

This is not a job for an anchor or a reporter (sorry, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory). It is a job for a host-- a creative and entertaining questioner respected along the political spectrum as fair and honest (sorry, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews).

So on Friday morning I asked rhetorically: "I wonder how Tony Snow is doing?" His was truly the only name of sufficient caliber that occurred to me.

Now I know the answer to that question, and another titan of modern American media has fallen. Like Tim Russert before him, Tony Snow brought an infectious passion and likability to his craft. He brought those skills not only to his media jobs in print, radio and television, but to the White House, where he was a speechwriter for the first President Bush and press secretary for the second. His 17 months at the White House press room podium made predecessor Scott McClellan look like the useless shlub history now reveals him to be.

When Tony Snow took over that post in Spring 2006, one of President Bush's key problems was the passionless ineptitude that poisoned the delivery of his message. Snow fixed that in one day, establishing a style of addressing the press with conviction and humor. There had been no one like him before, and I don't see anyone equaling him again.

But there have been a lot of good White House press secretaries, and a lot of good TV hosts and writers. It was his radio show that proved from 2003 to 2006 that he was an even rarer breed-- someone who could move from print and television into the completely different world of talk radio.

History is littered with failed talk show attempts by people who seemed interesting at something else. But there is little if anything in writing, acting or government service that equips one to offer opinions compellingly for three hours while taking extemporaneous calls from the public.

Tony did it, and he was great at it. Just like everything else he did.

And by that I mean more than his very public jobs. He was a man of varied interests, wide and deep friendships and a master of many musical instruments. He also managed to navigate through a government and media career while maintaining his most important job-- his devotion to his wife and kids.

I had spoken to Tony a few months earlier as he backed the White House on its woefully toothless immigration policies. While it was a rare occasion of disagreement, it was classic Tony-- civil, constructive and woven with his eternal pleasantness and good humor.

When I had finished telling him that his former boss really needed to toughen up on the borders, and he had told me that his former boss deserved a fairer shake, we spent the last couple of minutes on the cancer that had caused him to leave the press secretary post in September 2007.

He told me that things were going well and that more treatment options lay ahead if the current course did not do the trick. I wished him good luck and good health, and he wished me the same.

I had been around him about ten times over the years, first when he worked on the editorial pages of the Detroit News and Washington Times in the late 1980s. As his star rose, propelling him to the set of Fox News Sunday, where he took a show from non-existent to dominant in just a few short years, he never got the big head, never lost his winning personality and never let go of his passion for life, even as cancer slowly robbed him.

Now we are the ones who have been robbed. Tony Snow should have been able to see his kids grow older as he grew old with his bride, and we should have been able to enjoy his sunny demeanor during political clashes lasting well into the middle of this century.

It is his gifts, the kind he shared with Tim Russert, that are sorely needed, not just in government and on TV, but in our entire national discourse.

I am sad and angry and I miss him. My faith tells me I'm not supposed to grumble so much when God calls people home. Well, I'm sorry. While I know there's some great talent gathering in heaven, I simply was not done with them down here.

Snow and Russert leave behind loving families, grateful audiences and loving friends. They will have successors, but never replacements.

Mark Davis hosts a radio talk show in Dallas-Fort Worth and is a free-lance columnist for The Dallas Morning News.

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