Tony Snow's death this past weekend did not, given what we knew of the spread of his cancer, come as a shock out of the blue. But it came as a shock nevertheless. Tony was one of the people in the politics/journalism business for whom the first word that comes to mind has long been "good." Good not just in the sense of competence and knowledge but good in the sense of moral human being. I first knew Tony back in 1991, when he and I were both panelists from time to time on the Channel 5 talk program Off the Record, hosted by Bob Beckel. Tony was then an editorial writer for the Detroit News and the Washington Times, and he brought his unfailing good humor and cheerful demeanor to a show that featured a certain amount of partisan rough and tumble.
Tony left newspapers and Beckel's program to become White House chief speechwriter in 1991. He was the host of Fox News Sunday from 1996 to 2003, wrote a syndicated column (and a darned good one), and hosted his own radio talk show after subbing for Rush Limbaugh. From 2006 to 2007, he was White House press secretary and did a superb job. Future historians will do right to wonder whether the repute of George W. Bush and his administration would not have been a lot higher if Tony had been offered and taken the job back in 2003, when Ari Fleischer left. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that Tony may have been the best White House press secretary ever; he was certainly one of the best. He served his president faithfully and at the same time was careful to be accurate and fair in his dealings with the press, apologizing from time to time when he was convinced it was warranted. He used both his wide knowledge of the issues and what was happening at the highest levels of the White House, plus his trademark good humor, to present a positive and convincing view of the president's performance. He didn't hesitate to challenge, good-humoredly, the premises of reporters' questions. I assumed that Tony resigned from this job he obviously loved because of the disease threatening him and the need, genuine in his case, to spend more time with his family and provide for them while he could. We have lost an absolutely first-rate human being, and I have lost a friend who was always brimming with curiosity, learning, and good cheer.