Tony Snow: Irreverent recollections of a patriot
In July, 1989, NOVOSTI (the Soviet Press Agency), played host to 12 American journalists. At the time, I was editing a newspaper in America’s heartland and Wonder Wife (WW) was a newspaper columnist. Due to Moscow’s deplorable lack of hot water, we soon called ourselves: the Dirty Dozen.
Once in Moscow, we held a get-acquainted session in the hotel restaurant. Seated around the table were: Tony Snow (now to be White House Press Secretary), a Texan who was famous for exposing President Lyndon Johnson’s Billy Sol Estes Scandal, the managing editor of The Washington Times, a female TV documentary producer and six other print journalists who looked at WW and me as if we had just fallen off a Nebraska turnip truck. Also, present were: Vladimir and Igor, our two NOVOSTI (read KGB) minders.
Drawing on my military experience, WW and I brought along vials of Clorox™, iodine tablets, Lomotil™ and insect repellant. Our little pile of preventatives drew looks of distain from some of the major-media types; however, all the items soon proved to be objects of envy.
The hotel’s windows had no screens, and it was too hot to close the windows. So, after a night of incessant attack by Moscow’s B-52-size mosquitoes, WW and I could have sold our stock of insect repellant for mega-rubles. The turnip truck image began to fade.
One evening, we were invited to a Russian wedding where a drunken Russian (that’s redundant) made some rude remarks about Americans. He wanted to fight. In a Moscow minute, the over 6-foot-two-inch, Tony Snow, took up the challenge. But our man Snow proved so abominable that the rude Russian quickly headed for the Lenin Hills.
NOVOSTI arranged for us to interview virtually every Soviet notable who had not fled the heat for Siberia. Following our afternoon-long interview with Sergei Khrushchev, we were escorted to an inner courtyard and asked to form one rank so a NOVOSTI official could thank each of us with a gift of Russian rubles.
Tony spotted the cameras positioned to photograph the Dirty Dozen accepting Soviet “bribes.” We hurriedly huddled to discuss what was obviously another ham-handed attempt by the KGB to compromise us in some way. But the “set-up” was so laughably obvious, we decided, for diplomatic reasons, to fall into formation and accept what were barely enough rubles to buy a bowl of borscht. I’m just waiting for Helen Thomas or some other Bush-hater to produce that photo.
While certainly not senior in terms of journalistic reputation, my prematurely grey hair caused Soviet officials to assume I was senior, and I was happy to play the role. One night, we were hosted by the manager of a Soviet collective farm (kolkhoz) who, when wounded by the Nazis, was hidden by a milkmaid and nursed back to health on fermented mare’s milk.
In tribute to the milkmaid who saved his life, the kolkhoz manager insisted that we toast the health of the American President with glasses of fermented mare’s milk. Gross yuk! If you can’t stand buttermilk to begin with, fermented mare’s milk requires enormous powers of diplomacy just to keep from throwing up.
To ward off another toast of mare’s milk, I jumped to my feet, asked that our glasses be filled with vodka, and proposed that we toast the health of the Soviet President. Tony Snow understood my ploy. Quickly, Tony followed with a vodka toast to our host. Without pause, each of the Dirty Dozen proposed a vodka toast to any Soviet official he or she could recall. Thus, the evening ended before the vodka-muddled manager could propose any more mare’s milk toasts.
Seriously, what did we learn about Tony Snow during our tour of the USSR? Tony is a quick and deep study. He understands the challenges confronting America. The title for someone who takes a big pay cut to help us better understand those challenges is: American Patriot.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2006. William Hamilton.