That black cloud over the White House? It’s not entirely without silver linings.

Today, the White House Press Corpse actually showed some signs of life. But not before Tony Snow had made it a point to be jaw-droppingly flippant:

Snow was asked by a reporter if anyone in the administration would ever apologize for what prompted the entire investigation — public disclosure that Valerie Plame, the wife of sharp anti-war critic Joseph Wilson, was an undercover CIA officer.

“Yeah, it’s improper to be leaking those names,” Snow said. Pressed on whether someone in the administration owed the American public an apology, Snow said, “I’ll apologize. Done.”

Stunning. I thought you had to go to brunch in West Hollywood to see that kind of Olympic-level bitchiness in the wild. Well-played, Tonita. You get today’s Golden Claw Award for Dismissive Cattiness, even though the Russian judge gave it a 2.4.

Fortunately, the Press was in the mood to give just as good as they got:

Q I’d like to know, if someone else perjures himself, someone unknown to the President, does the President believe that prison time for that offense is excessive?

MR. SNOW: It depends on the circumstances surrounding the case.

Q And so what is it about these circumstances that –

MR. SNOW: I’m not going to get you — beyond what we’ve said, I’m just not going to play the game.

Q But is one day, even one day in prison excessive for this kind of a crime? I mean, people have spent time in prison for –

MR. SNOW: No, no — this crime. This crime.

Q This crime, yes.

MR. SNOW: Not this kind of crime; this crime.

Q One day is too much for this particular crime?

MR. SNOW: The President decided that it was too much for this one.

Q Why not some jail time served, as was –

MR. SNOW: Tell me why.

Q I’m asking you.

MR. SNOW: No, it sounds to me like –

Q — obstruction of justice, is why –

MR. SNOW: You don’t think –

Q — convicted of obstruction of justice.

Q For lying, perjury.

Q Perjury.

Q He was convicted of — am I right? He was convicted of obstruction of justice.

Q He was convicted of perjury. He lied about leaking.

MR. SNOW: — running high in the press room today.

Q No, you’re trying to take the logical and change it around and make — you’re insulting our intelligence.

Thank you, White House Press Corps for calling him on it for once. I’m going to try not to quibble here that it only took you five or six years too long to figure out that the White House has been treating you all like a passel of not-very-bright Pomeranians. Frankly, I think that the GOP moved beyond insults to America’s intelligence to downright injury somewhere back around 2005.

Of course, Snow’s typical shuck-and-jive response was that he’s merely trying to “inject some nuance” into the discussion of the rampant lawlessness that has become this administration’s calling card. That’s all well and good, as long as definitions of the word “nuance” have now been expanded to include the brown substance that falls from the south end of a north-bound bull.

I have to wonder how the members of our docile, compliant Press Corps look at themselves in the mirror each morning, knowing that their job is to be lied to by men who would cheat at a poker game with Helen Keller. Ari Fleischer, at least, I sort of understood. He’s the usual sort of sweaty careerist lackey who you’ll find is more than eager to launder the skid marks out of the Preznint’s tighty-whities in front of god and everybody just for the sake of being on a first-name basis with the denizens of the halls of power. The McClellatron 3000, on the other hand, I felt like they hired because he looked sort of vaguely like Fleischer and was, if not slick, then at least a fairly decent obfuscator. He could stammer and eject little nonsensical pieces of verbiage until the clock ran out, anyhow, and that was enough to keep the assembled reporters confused and dazzled by the pretty lights until the next day’s news cycle.

But Snow, he’s a whole different creature, the political equivalent of a carnival barker, a slick, sleazy professional GOP pole-greaser. He serves up big heaping plates of poo to the press and while some of them will occasionally grouse about the flavor, he scolds and upbraids them if they ask for something else. And they take it! What I find the most astonishing about his daily kabuki routine is that reporters don’t actively pelt him with rotten tomatoes and heads of cabbage.

Maybe what you see in the video above is the birth of a newly non-compliant press, but frankly, I’m not holding my breath. Would that they were an entire room full of Helen Thomases. (They can’t move them all to the back row! It’s a physical impossibility!) We’ll see how it all shakes out, I guess.

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