Fox News pundit is new voice of White House

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The Independent US

George Bush has enlisted Tony Snow, an anchor and pundit from the conservative Fox News network, to be the new White House press spokesman - the second most visible and, many would say, the second-toughest job in Washington after that of the Presidency itself.

The move, announced by Mr Bush yesterday, is perhaps the most intriguing change pushed through by Josh Bolten since he took over as White House chief of staff less than two weeks ago, with the task of revitalising a weary and deeply troubled administration.

Mr Snow's Republican credentials are impeccable. He ran the editorial pages of the arch-conservative Washington Times before moving to the White House in 1991 as an aide to Mr Bush's father. Since 1996 he has worked as a host and commentator for Fox News, and on occasion stood in for Rush Limbaugh on the country's most listened-to right-wing radio show.

Even so, in his journalistic incarnation, the gangling 50 year-old Mr Snow has frequently criticised the President, albeit from the viewpoint of a disheartened true believer.

"Bush has lost control of the Federal Budget," he told his listeners last month. In other comments gleefully dug up and circulated by the Democrat-leaning Centre for American Progress from past commentaries and columns, Mr Snow has opined that "George Bush has become something of an embarrassment" and - late last year - that "No president has looked this impotent this long". At the time, Mr Bush's approval ratings were in the low 40s; now they have slumped to the low 30s.

Yesterday Mr Bush made light of all this. He had questioned Mr Snow about the comments, he noted, "...and he [Mr Snow] said, "You should have heard what I said about the other guy."

For the White House, the appointment is a chance to prove that this President, often contemptuous of the press and frequently attacked for sealing himself in a "bubble" of a few like-minded aides, is capable of listening to outsiders.

In contrast with the man he replaces, the dour Scott McClellan, Mr Snow is a natural communicator. He has, apparently been promised all the access he wants - in contrast with his predecessor, whose increasingly obvious absence from the innermost counsels of the administration fatally damaged his credibility with the press.

But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. "Believe it or not, I want to work with you," Mr Snow told reporters at the rostrum in the cramped White House press room. He did, however, immediately depart with Mr Bush, leaving a host of shouted questions hanging in the air.

Karl Rove, Mr Bush's deputy chief of staff yesterday testified for the fifth time before the federal grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The case has already seen the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to vice-President Dick Cheney.