Now we must turn down an empty glass for Tony Snow. The expression comes from “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” as translated from the Persian by the English eccentric Edward FitzGerald. The FitzGerald translation also gave us “The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on . . .” and many other quotable lines.
Anyway at one time, journalists, particularly those who worked for newspapers, liked to treat “The Rubaiyat” as a kind of drinking song without music. It was very popular in saloons frequented by journalists, who insisted on being called newspapermen or women. It wasn’t until the rise of television that “journalist,” an old-fashioned term, reemerged probably because newspapermen and women were appearing more and more on TV.
When we lost one of our own, we’d turn down an empty glass. We’d also upend a few bottles as we mourned our loss; another good soul destined for that great newsroom in the sky.
Journalism is a soberer business nowadays, and the old practices have largely died out. Unfortunately in dismantling our vices, mostly drinking and a pervasive inability to handle money, we’ve also lost our ability to grieve collectively, to hug and to cry.
Even so, much of the Washington journalistic population, and the White House press corps in particular, are walking around shocked. Tony Snow is dead. We all feared it was coming, and also believed it wouldn’t happen. Not our Tony. Even the atheists among us hoped for some divine intervention; some triumph of the human spirit, so plentiful in Snow, over the evil of metastasizing cancer.
After all, we are a sentimental lot; conservative about our trade and profligate with our adoration, if we can find someone we feel worthy of it. There’s the rub. We live in a world of ambitious and disingenuous politicians who buy their opinions wholesale and will pirouette on a dime if there’s a vote or campaign contribution to be had. We are not cynical; we are lovelorn, short of people to admire–editors and proprietors, as well as politicians.
Tony was one of us and one of them, but fundamentally we thought he was one of us. Sure he’d written speeches for Reagan, subbed for the polemicist Rush Limbaugh, and wore the colors of George W. Bush. We didn’t care.
Snow knew that we go to the White House briefings and press conferences to get the facts, not to debate policy. He knew that everyone of us had an appointment with a word processor or a camera moments after he left the podium, He respected our struggle, and we respected his.
Sadly, the last time I saw Snow was at a funeral for CBS broadcaster Ivan Scott. Snow sat with my wife, Linda Gasparello, and me. Toward the end of the Mass, Snow went over to Scott’s widow, Sarah, and hugged her for the longest time, in a gesture made the more poignant because we all knew that he was fighting the same disease that carried off Ivan. Also, he appeared to be the only present or recent White House official who showed up. He was like that.