Former National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane interviewed Dana Perino in front of a full crowd, including former White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, Friday night at the National Press Club. Her talk raised funds for the nonprofit NPC Journalism Institute. Perino is in town to promote her new book And the Good News Is..Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side and NOT attend the White House Correspondence Dinner, which she has “avoided ever since 2008!” Perino worked as former President George W. Bush’s White House Press Secretary and now co-hosts on FOX News’ The Five.
Perino comes across as passionate, kind, loyal, and genuine. She grew up in Wyoming and Colorado, and started working in media as a County music station DJ while in college. When people ask her how to become a White House Press Secretary and she always replies, “There is no direct route to the White House.” She encourages communicators on The Hill to understand policy otherwise you won’t be good at your job.
Perino felt betrayed by the book written by former Bush White House spokesperson Scott McClellan. When President Bush saw she was upset he told her, “Don’t worry about my legacy, they’re still writing about the first president, I’ll be fine.” She said that President George Herbert Walker Bush was much aligned during his presidency and now he is revered. President Bush asked Perino to forgive McClellan and she replied, “Can I forgive him once I throw him under the bus?” Bush assured her, “No one will remember the book in three weeks.” Bush told Perino he knew should would never write a book about him like McLellan, and Perino wrote her book to give a personal glimpse of President Bush. She had a positive relationship with President Bush even though she recalls being mortified when he asked her to leave the Oval office once. Her husband quipped, “You can now say, “I’ve been kicked out of better places than this!”
When people ask Perino about ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ since she was the first woman White House Press Secretary, she responds that it never occurred to her as her job was all consuming. Perino was also surrounded by strong women leaders like Department of Education Margaret Spelling and State Department’s head Condi Rice. She enjoyed working behind the scenes as the Press Deputy. The day she was chosen as the White House Press Secretary was the day she was going to resign as she was exhausted. The President’s Chief of Staff, John Bolton, told his staff if you don’t have enough energy to sprint to the finish for the President’s last two years, then you should quit. Perino’s health was suffering. Her arm went numb, she needed pills to sleep, and had constant ringing in her ears that sometimes prevented her from hearing reporters’ questions. Her husband joked, “I can hear your ringing.” She immediately said yes to the White House Press Secretary job and focused on what outfit she would wear on her first day and how to deal with her stress. Perino chose a lavender dress.
Perino felt nervous about taking the White House Press Secretary job, but, “butterflies are great as long as they fly in formation.” Tony Snow, the former White House Press Secretary, who was dying from cancer, encouraged her, ‘You’re better at this than you think you are.” She eventually understood what he meant was that she could be herself. Perino is thankful for the many mentors who helped her to where she is today. She encourages young people facing a quarter life crisis where they face reality and see they haven’t achieved their dreams to volunteer on campaigns in Florida or Nevada. “Those are exciting races! Get coffee, carry purses, you will move up in a year!”
She encourages people to choose to be loved. Perino met her husband on a plane flight. She moved to the UK for a year to be with him, but couldn’t stand the rain and socialism so they moved back to America. She got her job back on The Hill because she remained friends with the people she worked with on The Hill before. She has no scores to settle. Working on The Hill changed her life.
Perino deplores the lack of media access at the White House. President Obama played basketball with the WNBA recently, but no press was allowed. Edited clips were released to the press afterwards and it showed that Obama didn’t miss any shots apparently. “Once the press gives up ground, it is hard to get it back,” she warned.
Perino closed her talk by not revealing who she is supporting for the next presidential race, but she advises the Obama Administration to stay mum on it too. The next two years the media will focus on the presidential race and the Obama administration will take a back role if they don’t make comments on the race. She made a mistake once of using a zinger to defend Bush and it ended up being used by several presidential candidates.
The interview was fascinating as it took the audience behind the scenes at the White House.