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Tony Snow tells CNN journalist to 'zip it'

  • Story Highlights
  • Snow said on Colbert Report: "The one guy I snapped at was Ed Henry of CNN"
  • Snow quickly apologized, says Henry
  • Rather than holding some silly grudge, he was ever the gentleman, says Henry
  • "He brought a certain civility to this very contentious job," said George H.W. Bush
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By Ed Henry
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A couple of months before he died so tragically, Tony Snow said on "The Colbert Report" that it was the only time he ever lost his cool at the White House podium: the day in March 2007 that he told me to, well, "Zip it!"

Tony Snow answers questions at a White House press conference, which were dubbed "The Tony Snow Show."

CNN's Ed Henry, inset, says former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was "ever the gentleman."

Snow was prodded into recalling the infamous (in a light-hearted way) moment by Stephen Colbert, who mocked the press for always hounding Tony when he was White House press secretary and asked, as only Colbert can ask, "You ever just want to jack-slap David Gregory to next week?"

Snow said, "The one guy I snapped at was Ed Henry of CNN."

"Oh I know Ed, he's a tool," Colbert cracked.

Snow laughed: "He was asking 58 questions. He didn't quite know what he wanted to get at so he was just --"

"Fishing expedition!" Colbert declared to laughter.

It was classic Tony Snow. Rather than holding some silly grudge, he was ever the gentleman. Oh he would needle you and get his shot in alright, but he would do it in a humorous way that reinforced what will be his enduring legacy to me: Life is too short to get yourself all worked up about one tense exchange, one awkward moment or one misstep. Video Watch a retrospective of Snow »

Get over it and be thankful for the time you do have.

He was probably only slightly exaggerating about how many questions I liked to ask him at briefings. I used to tease him back that I would not have had to ask 58 questions if he would just answer the first 57 questions I fired at him. Of course, he just laughed me off.

In this case, the tense exchange came on March 19, 2007, the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. Snow was attacking House Democrats for a troop withdrawal plan he claimed was a "recipe for defeat" that would "provide a victory for the enemy" in Iraq. Video Watch White House staffers' fond send-off for Snow »

So I asked Snow to explain President Bush's "recipe for success" in Iraq.

Snow promptly reached into his toolbox for one of his favorite tactics, turning my own question around on me and demanding to know my recipe for success in Iraq. I started insisting that I get to ask the questions and he has to provide the answers and we kept interrupting each other until Snow finally blurted, "Zip it!"

There was silence in the briefing room for a minute there because while we were used to his fast and furious zingers at what the press corps liked to call "The Tony Snow Show," this was a retort nobody had expected. To his credit, Snow quickly apologized, telling me that it violated a rule he had about not taking the job personally. Share your memories of Snow

In fact, Snow showed his true colors a few months later when we had another battle in the briefing room and later in the day we ran into each other on the White House North Lawn. Snow's loyal assistant, a great young staffer named Ed Buckley, came upon the scene and jokingly suggested we were about to come to blows. "I'm going to have to buy you two boxing gloves one of these days," Buckley said.

"Nope," Snow immediately interjected, saying we both were just doing our jobs. "It's never personal."

You want to know what Tony Snow was all about? You've got your answer right there. One of the few guys in this tough town who understood how to draw that line.


A point made very well by former President George Herbert Walker Bush, when I interviewed him Saturday in the hours after we all learned the awful news that Snow had passed away all too soon at the age of 53, leaving behind a wife and three young children.

"He brought a certain civility to this very contentious job," the former president said.

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