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July 14, 2008
A Farewell to Tony Snow
Now we must turn down an empty glass for Tony Snow. The expression comes
from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as translated from the Persian
by the English eccentric Edward FitzGerald. The FitzGerald translation
also gave us “The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on . . .”
and many other quotable lines.
Anyway, at one time, journalists, particularly those who worked for
newspapers, liked to treat “The Rubaiyat” as a kind of drinking song
without music. It was very popular in saloons frequented by journalists,
who insisted on being called newspapermen or women. It wasn't really
until the rise of television that “journalist,” an old-fashioned term,
re-emerged, probably because newspapermen and women were appearing more
and more on TV.
When we lost one of our own, we'd turn down an empty glass. We'd also
upend a few bottles as we mourned our loss – another good soul destined
for that great newsroom in the sky.
Journalism is a soberer business nowadays, and the old practices have
largely died out. Unfortunately, in dismantling our vices, mostly
drinking and a pervasive inability to handle money, we've also lost our
ability to grieve collectively, to hug and to cry.
Even so, much of the Washington journalistic population, and the White
House press corps in particular, is walking around shocked. Tony Snow is
dead. We all feared it was coming, and also believed it wouldn't happen.
Not our Tony. Even the atheists among us hoped for some divine
intervention; some triumph of the human spirit, so plentiful in Snow,
over the evil of metastasizing cancer.
After all, we are a sentimental lot – conservative about our trade and
profligate with our adoration, if we can find someone we feel worthy of
it. There's the rub. We live in a world of ambitious and disingenuous
politicians who buy their opinions wholesale and will pirouette on a
dime if there's a vote or campaign contribution to be had. We are not
cynical; we are lovelorn, short of people to admire – editors and
proprietors, as well as politicians.
Tony was one of us and one of them, but fundamentally we thought he was
one of us. Sure he'd written speeches for Ronald Reagan, subbed for the
polemicist Rush Limbaugh and wore the colors of George W. Bush.
Snow knew that we go to the White House briefings and press conferences
to get the facts, not to debate policy. He knew that everyone of us had
an appointment with a word processor or a camera moments after he left
the podium, He respected our struggle, and we respected his.
Sadly, the last time I saw Snow was at a funeral for CBS broadcaster
Ivan Scott. Snow sat with my wife, Linda Gasparello, and myself. Toward
the end of the mass, Snow went over to Scott's widow, Sarah, and hugged
her for the longest time, in a gesture made the more poignant because we
all knew that he was fighting the same disease that carried off Ivan.
Also, he appeared to be the only present or recent White House official
who showed up. He was like that.
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