Dana Perino was George W. Bush’s press secretary from 2007-09 and is a co-host for “The Five” on Fox News. She is speaking at 5 p.m. in Caroll Hall Thursday night as a part of the Park Lecture Series. Staff Writer Jane Wester spoke with her about her experiences.
Daily Tar Heel: What did you most enjoy about being press secretary?
Dana Perino: Even though there were daily frustrations that come with that job, I look back with complete fondness at my time as press secretary. I recognize how unique it was for my life, and I really don’t know if I’ll ever work with a team like that again. We were very, very close-knit. I’m still good friends with everybody that I worked with.
DTH: Could you talk a little bit about what you’ve done after?
DP: I don’t feel like my initial transition from the White House was very smooth, because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I never would have been able to actually do what I’m doing now if I hadn’t taken a major detour in my life to work in politics, and journalism, and not work as much in public relations as I was, to landing on my feet in New York City of all places — I mean, I grew up on a cattle ranch. So I stare in wide-eyed amazement most of the time when I’m in New York City at all my good fortune to have this great opportunity. And now we have the No. 2 show on Fox.
DTH: What would you say to college students who come tomorrow night wanting to hold a job like press secretary?
DP: I actually think doing different things and having different experiences; I worked in the environment and energy division. I took the jobs in the Republican administration nobody else wanted at the time. When an opportunity presents itself, I really think it’s important to let it breathe a little bit, sleep on it before you say no to something. That’s how I ended up with my job on Capitol Hill.
DTH: You’ve seen both sides of the press, being the one making the news and then the one talking about it. How do you think the media has changed since you came to the role?
DP: To me, the principles of journalism are the same, whether or not people adhere to them is another matter; the methods of communication have changed dramatically. And that has been to the benefit of the politicians and the government who can speak directly to the people without a media filter.
I feel that the press secretary has a responsibility to stick up for the press and make sure they have access and not be so afraid of allowing reporters to ask questions of the government. Because it makes the government stronger and it certainly makes our country stronger in the long run.
DTH: Do you think that the press secretaries of the past few years have defended and advocated for the pressless?
DP: I give wide deference to any press secretary for how they want to run their office. I think the White House Communications Association is always going to complain about access, they will always complain that it’s not enough. And the press secretary will always say, ‘Yes it is enough.’ All I know is that when it came to working for President Bush, my approach to the press came from the top. Even though he would get niggled and irritated a bit by reporters, he respected them and wanted them to know they were welcome to be there. And he would listen to me and respected my opinion when I would say we need to open this up for questions. Probably that might have just been part of the time, or the way that he was raised watching his father deal with the press for a long time, and then he had been governor for two terms, so he had a pretty strong stomach for news coverage.