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Tony Snow searches for Hugh’s G spot, and analyzes the immigration bill and the state of the media.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007
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HH: Pleased to welcome back Tony Snow. Tony, how are you feeling?

TS: I’m feeling fine, Hugh. Thanks for asking.

HH: Great. I want to get to immigration in just a moment, but first, big story in the Washington Post business section today, Wall Street Journal as well. The administration, in the form of Solicitor General Paul Clement, took a pass on the Stoneridge case, where the Supreme Court has said to him come, tell us whether you think we ought to extend liability and fraud, securities matters to lawyers, accountants, consultants, bankers. How could the administration sit that one out, Tony Snow?

TS: Well, again, look, what we’re talking…the administration did not sit it out. The Solicitor General simply asked what our opinion was, and let me just put it this way. On the Stoneridge case, what you’re really talking about is an attempt by trial lawyers to extend liability, really throughout the economic system…

HH: Yup.

TS: …in such a way that would wreak enormous damage. So we gave the views of the administration, which is that’s not the kind of thing we support. We think it’s bad policy, and the President thinks it’s undesirable to extend the scope of shareholder class actions suits.

HH: So…but the Solicitor General did not file a brief, even though Chris Cox…by the way, he’s my friend, he’s your friend. What’s up with Chris on this one?

TS: Well, you’re going to have to ask Chris on that one. So I’ll just leave it at that.

HH: Okay, but will the administration file a brief formally opposing the extension of this liability?

TS: Well, again, I’ll leave it to the Solicitor General. The way it worked was that they had until midnight last night to side with the plaintiffs. The question is now whether there will be a brief with the defendants, which I believe that would be the side that you would favor. So when you say take a pass, what happened was there was a deadline for last night for supporting the plaintiffs.

HH: Very good.

TS: There’s still as much as a month to decide, and the SG, obviously, Solicitor General, will be making a decision on whether to file an amicus brief on behalf of the defendants.

HH: Excellent, excellent. Now Tony Snow, going to immigration, is there anything going to change in the bill that would allow people who favor regularization like me to come over and support it? Have any changes been promised in the conversations…

TS: Well, I’ll tell you, let me tell you what’s going on, is there continue to be conversations. What I’m not going to do is kind of lift the veil on some of the discussions that take place behind the scenes. But what you do have, and the President went to the Hill today, and he talked to the Republican policy committee, and the first thing he did was just try to lower the temperature by saying look, guys, I know some of you disagree with me, I’m not coming here to twist arms, and you’ve got to understand that you’re my friends. One of the things he said to Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who’s adamantly opposed, is Jeff, there is nothing you can do to prevent me from coming down to Alabama and raise money for you next week.

HH: (laughing)

TS: (laughing) So the fact is, I think it set the right kind of tone. I think there’s several things…the other thing is that the President acknowledged something that members are talking a lot about, which is there is an enormous amount of skepticism about whether the government can or intends to secure the borders. And the bill, as you know, contains a lot of triggers and a lot of things that need to be done. But I think what you have now is sort of a growing consensus on how do you effectively address some of these concerns about credibility on security, how do you make sure that you really do restore a sense of a rule of law that is going to punish those who come here illegally, but also is going to have the kind of enforcement that is going to force employers to play an active to making sure the law works, because the present law doesn’t. When people say well, just enforce the present law, the problem is it’s not enforceable on the business side, which leaves a gaping loophole when it comes to illegals in this country. So a lot of those technical issues are still under discussion, but I think what you find is that the conversations have a very constructive tone to them, and what I’d also say is you know, keep your eyes and ears open.

HH: Now Tony Snow, the last time you were here, you urged me to read the bill…

TS: Yup.

HH: And I did, and I wrote 10,000 words on it, and what I discovered is, and I think I’ve persuaded even proponents of the bill like Michael Medved this is the case, that there are no triggers because of 601h probationary benefits for anyone who files and isn’t kicked back in 24 hours.

TS: No, that’s one of these things where the fact is the probationary period, you have an initial check. What happens is that there are a whole series of background checks that do have to take place. Many of them can be done within 24 hours, but you’ve got to understand that after that 24 hours, if you have not completed the background check, it continues. And I think you’ve had a conversation with Michael Chertoff about this.

HH: I did, but that…

TS: …where the point is that folks who do not pass muster, and do not pass the probationary period, they get themselves kicked back. So it is not a free pass after 24 hours.

HH: But if you do not get kicked back, Tony Snow, you get work and travel papers that will allow you to stay there until after the triggers, the so-called triggers, are met, and then until the Z visa process is done.

TS: Well, we’re talking about two different kinds of triggers.

HH: No.

TS: No, we’re talking about two different kinds of triggers. What you were talking about is for individual applicants. The triggers in the bill that the people are talking in terms of security are, you know, border fencing, so I think you and I are talking about two different topics.

HH: No, we’re not. Tony, there are no triggers. The day after the law is signed, someone walks in and files for a 601h probationary application. And unless they are affirmatively turned down in 24 hours, they get work and travel permits.

TS: No, I think that is something that people have been working on, because it’s not going to work that way. You still have ongoing…

HH: Okay, that’s good.

TS: If you have an incomplete background check, you do not get a free pass. You’ve got to have…that’s got to be completed.

HH: If that changes, that’s a big deal. What about from 370 miles as a real trigger up to 600 or 700?

TS: Well, that’s something…the fact is, if you’re going to try to get 600, 700, that’s an effective way of sort of stretching things out, and not getting to the point where you can do some of the other enforcement. I think people thought the 370 was…because what we’re talking about is having this by the end of the next calendar year, of calendar 2008. But you know what? This is what these debates are about. If members of Congress feel that that’s what is going to be essential, you know, we’ll have to see.

HH: Now Michelle Malkin wrote this morning that your comments this morning were, “out of touch with reality,” because you’re happy talk here. Are you out of touch with reality on the prospects for this bill?

TS: No, look, Michelle has also attributed, said perfectly awful things about me that she knows aren’t true. The fact is that I’m not out of touch with reality. If you take a look at what’s going on in the Hill, it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of people with their sleeves rolled up, and who believe as you and Michelle and others do, that we’ve got a mess here, and you aren’t going to change the mess unless you change the law.

HH: I believe that, but I do believe it’s got to be changed from what it was last week, and radically so. And do you think folks like me who are willing to believe in regularization are going to be satisfied at the end of this, Tony Snow?

TS: Well, we’re going to have to…look, Hugh, I still have not figured out exactly where your G spot is. So…

HH: 3,000 miles an hour, Tony (laughing)

TS: (laughing)

HH: I don’t think I want to tell you anything more than that.

TS: So the point is, keep an eye on what’s going on. This is not something, this was never a take it or leave it proposition. The basic principles here are things that I think everybody agrees on. Number one, you do have to do border security first, not only because it’s good policy, but because right now, you’ve got a skeptical public that says why should we trust you? You’ve got to provide an answer for that. Point number two, when it comes to the rule of law, you have got to make even those who are regularized, they have to admit they broke the law. You do it in the form of a fine, and as Michael Chertoff and others have pointed out, then you place them on probation so that if they do not live up to the proper standards, if they don’t maintain continuous employment, if they break the law, if they try to get welfare benefits to which they’re not entitled, a whole series of things, then they’re out of here. So you’ve got to make sure that not only do they admit they broke the law, but also they’re not probation. Meanwhile, you’ve got to put the hammer down on employers who basically skated free in the ’86 law, so that those who knowingly hire illegals, who are exploiting their labor, they get pounded, too, and now the maximum penalty rises to $75,000 per offense. Finally…

HH: Earlier today, Tony…

TS: Yeah.

HH: I spoke with Rudy Giuliani about one other crucial area, which is not differentiating illegals from countries with jihadi networks, countries of special concern, from Spanish speaking and people from economically depressed areas in Central America, et cetera. And he thought it was important that this bill provide priorities of investigation and testing to those people who are coming out of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, places where there might be jihadis. Is that going to show up in round two?

TS: I don’t know. It’s one of the things…it did not come up today in the conversations in the Senate. I mean, this was the Senators who were raising their concerns. And a lot of this, keep in mind, a lot of this is going to be driven by Senators. They’re going to have the opportunity to say we need to fill these loopholes, we need to fill these gaps. And frankly, one of the good things about having you and others read the bill is that there were weaknesses in it. Some of them have already been rectified, some of them haven’t. And so you go through this process not merely in the Senate, but also the House of Representatives. The point is, you do have to do everything you can within your capabilities to make sure that you keep the borders secure, and at the same time, you deal with 12 million illegals. Let me just add the third and final component. I’ve already mentioned that you’ve got to have border security and rule of law. You also can’t be giving citizenship away. You’ve got to make sure that people earn it, and there’s some pretty strong provisions in there as well. So I think once you lay down those as baseline principles. People can agree with them. Then you get yourself into the practical exercise of how do you make it work.

HH: Now in the ten minutes we have left here, Tony Snow, I want to play for you some of Tony Blair’s speech today. Have you had a chance to read it yet?

TS: I have not. I have been working this stuff all day, so I can’t wait.

HH: Okay, I’m going to give you a few cuts to get your…talk about my G spot, Tony Blair got real close to it today, because he’s blasting away at the media from the perspective of ten years in office. Cut number one, Adam.

TB: The fear of missing out means that today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it’s like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.

HH: What do you think, Tony Snow? Is today’s media a feral beast?

TS: I don’t know if you have ever seen a press conference when Tony Blair comes here with the British press corps. These are people who refuse to stand up for the president of the United States, or the prime minister when they enter the room, and ask the most personal and (laughing)…and sometimes just completely inappropriate questions. So I think Tony Blair was lashing back at a British press corps, which quite often when presented with some very serious, substantive issues, decides instead to go for the personal jugular.

HH: Here’s cut number two.

TB: In the analysis I’m about to make, I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defense, after 18 years of opposition, and the at times ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fueling the trends in communication that I’m about to question. It’s also, incidentally, hard for the public to know the facts, even when they’re subject to the most minute scrutiny, if those facts arise out of issues of profound controversy, as the Hutton inquiry showed. I would only point out that the Hutton inquiry, along with three other inquiries, was a six month investigation which eyes prime minister and other senior ministers and officials, faced unprecedented public questioning and scrutiny. The verdict was disparaged because it wasn’t the one that the critics wanted. But it was an example of being held to account, not avoiding it. Anyway, leave that to one side.

HH: Tony Snow, the verdict was disparaged because it wasn’t one the critics wanted. Does that bring to mind the controversy surrounding the Plame leak that did not come from Libby or Rove, and in fact just doesn’t satisfy the media that it didn’t?

TS: Well, we are still…one of these days, I will be able to unburden myself, but not while we still have ongoing legal issues here, including an appeal. But let me back up and try to sort of redirect this, not necessarily about the Libby trial, but instead about what’s going on in the media, because what Tony Blair’s talking about is a mainstream press that quite often has people who sort of hold one set of predispositions. What we have in the United States is kind of the wild west in the media, and you’re one of the guys with a big spurs, because you write a blog, you’re doing talk radio, and what we’re seeing in the United States is the profusion of media that tend to offer alternatives to people to get other points of view. Or you take a look at YouTube, and some of these other online sites. I think it’s going to be very difficult in the future for there to be any sort of single party line coming out of the media, because if people try to feed you only one point of view, folks are going to go elsewhere. It’s one of the reasons why cable news took off, it’s one of the reasons why talk radio has gained in popularity, it’s certainly one of the reasons that people turned to blogs. And frankly, I think that is one of the more positive reflections of what happens when you have an open market. What’s happened in the United States, Hugh, is that the media are becoming democratized. You don’t have to have a billion dollars to start a blog. All you need is a computer, you’ve got to be able to get online, and if you have a little bit of programming capability, off you go. Suddenly, people who have real expertise in issues have access to millions and millions of people through the internet, and other modes of communication. So I think Tony Blair is expressing some frustration in trying to penetrate through, especially in a nation that has a state owned television station.

HH: Yeah, here he next condemns the fact that the news cycle has shrunk to the point where you cannot allow anything to go unanswered. Cut number three.

TB: You have to respond to stories, also, in real time. Frequently, the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake, and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. In the 1960’s, believe it or not, the government would sometimes, if there was a serious issue, have a cabinet meeting that would last over two days. It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day. Things also harden within minutes. I mean, you can’t let speculation stay out there for longer than an instant.

HH: True or false, Tony Snow?

TS: No, I think what…yeah, I think you get a little bit of that, where the news cycle now is, well, basically a nanosecond. But on the other hand, you’ve got to be careful. Quite often, somebody responding too quickly ends up creating more news, if they don’t get their facts right or whatever. So it is one of the perils, but frankly, it’s one of the things that anybody in politics is going to have to contend with, which is when somebody comes out of the clear blue with a completely fallacious claim, or takes an angle that seems completely off the wall, sometimes you still have to take a breath, realizing that the temperature may rise a little bit, but ultimately, people are pretty fair minded, facts do win in the long run, and one of the things that I think you’re going to see are also adjustments for those in public life to figure out better ways, and more dramatic and thorough ways, to bring to the public the story. It’s not simply coming up with a sound byte, but you know, are you going to use the film clip? Are you going to put together an informational graphic? Are you going to try to find better ways to give people a completer picture, because sometimes, the best way to respond to one of these criticisms is not to respond directly to a charge, but instead tell a larger truth.

HH: Two more cuts, and then I’ll let you go, Tony. Cut number six, Adam, if you jump down a little bit.

TB: Talk to senior people in virtually any walk of life today, business, military, public services, sport, even charities and voluntary organizations, and they will tell you the same. People don’t speak about it, because in the main, they are afraid to, but it is true, nonetheless. And those who have been around long enough will also say it has changed significantly in the past years. The result, however, is a media that increasingly, and to a dangerous degree, is driven by impact. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course, the accuracy of the story counts, but it is secondary, often, to impact.

HH: Tony Snow, I left out of a lot in the middle of those two quotes, but what he’s saying is that media really doesn’t want to get the facts from you, they want to get news from you in order to increase their audience, and get a byline that gets noticed.

TS: Well, the interesting thing is if you take a look at, for instance, the area I know the best is cable news, for all my years at Fox, and when were the times of the very highest viewership? The answer is when you’ve got big news stories, whether it’s the war in Iraq or the elections cycles. What he’s referring to, I think, is what happens in sort of less busy times. We’ve all seen the phenomenon here in the United States where people are watching Paris Hilton’s car.

HH: Right.

TS: You know, quite often in a visual medium, people are going to look for the most arresting picture at that particular moment. But on the other hand, if you’re taking a look at what is going to generate durable ratings for you, quite often, it actually is…you’ve got to combine sharp reporting with the kind of presentation that it’s still going to be interesting to people. It’s a unique kind of challenge, but again, the huge high water marks for every news network are, in fact, the times when they are forced to cover a big demanding and breaking story. What he’s really referring to is the more mundane business of what happens on a slow afternoon when various channels are trying to figure out how to draw eyes to the television screen.

HH: And that is exactly how I’ll finish this with the last quote. Number seven for Tony Snow.

TB: Attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal, conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism, but it is a PhD thesis all in its own to examine the consequences for journalism as standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes, it is allegations of misconduct. But misconduct is what is impact.

HH: Tony Snow, he sounds very angry in this conclusion, doesn’t he?

TS: Yeah, but I think he’s making a very important point, and interestingly, I think we’re seeing evidence that the American people have drawn a similar conclusion in the sense that when politics becomes personal rather than analytical, after a time, people get bored. And if you take a look at what’s going on right now, yes, the President has low ratings, but Congress has even lower ratings. And I think that’s a reflection of a public that really does want to hear people talking in a sensible way about the stuff that they care about. Tony Blair’s making the point that there has been a tendency, not merely in the press, but certainly in politics, to assume that if somebody disagrees with you, you know, that they’re an absolutely rotten, vicious, evil person. And you know, we’ve seen some of that in some of the recent debates in this country. The fact is, you don’t need to personalize it. There are a lot of people who, look, I’ve got a lot of friends, and so do you, who we disagree with.

HH: Yup.

TS: And frankly, they make our lives richer and more interesting. What people need to do is get over the notion that if somebody disagrees with you, that they’re your mortal enemy. No, they’re not.

HH: Yup.

TS: They’re somebody, they happen to disagree. You can probably learn from them, and Heaven knows, they can certainly learn from you. So I do think that tendency to try to sort of play Jack the Ripper with those of contrary views is something that is going to run its course. It has gotten really old, in this country and around the world, and I think people have had enough of it.

HH: Tony Snow, I took you long. Thank you, I look forward to talking to you again when the immigration bill amendments come forward.

TS: All right, Hugh, It’s always a pleasure. Thanks.

HH: Thank you.

End of interview.

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