Tony Snow, former White House press secretary who died Saturday, was a true communications professional, devoted to helping people understand even the most complex issues. I will always remember what I learned from him:
- Communications is about making meaning and helping people understand. People may come to a different conclusion and not agree with you, but they will never see your view or agree if they don’t understand the context and relevance of the issue in the first place. Tony was first and foremost a meaning maker, not a political spin doctor.
- Be helpful and open. Tony wanted to be helpful to the press — more so than any other press secretary in recent years. Most others have been defensive and annoyed with the media questions. Not Tony. He answered questions vs. dancing around and throwing empty answers back. He was positive, optimistic, and seemed to genuinely like and respect the media — despite differing points of view. I think he knew that that democracy is based on debating and discussing, not issuing statements and refusing to engage in dialog.
- Living in a world of optimism and possibilities is a good life. Though ill for many years, Tony’s optimism and energy was a constant reminder of how rich life can be. University of Chicago educator Robert Hutchins once said, ‘The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” Tony was the antithesis — engaged, passionate and constantly nourishing.
Who are the up and coming Tony Snows and Tim Russerts? We need them now….