Who is Dana Perino?
Dana Perino will assume the post of
White House Press Secretary next month,
but does she have enough experience?
TIM KING / Salem News 1sep2007
The new White House Press Secretary, 34-year old Dana Perino, will take over the post after Tony Snow Steps down on September 14th.
As the Deputy Press Secretary, she took over for a brief period a few months ago while Snow was treated for colon cancer, and now she's coming back as the new official spokesperson for President George W. Bush.
Blogs and other publications see Perino as both intelligent and sexy, and she is. But many questions remain, and it is too soon to tell at this point if her appearance and calm demeanor are what the administration needs as it battles to save face with a nation.
Perino was born in Evanston, Wyoming and grew up in Denver, Colorado. She attended Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.
She graduated from the University of Southern Colorado in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in mass communications and a minor in both political science and Spanish, and attended graduate school at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
After that, she obtained her masters at UIS in Public Affairs Reporting while also working as a daily reporter covering the Illinois Capitol for WCIA-TV, the Champaign, Illinois CBS affiliate in the nation's 82nd DMA or "market."
Perino was active on the university debate team and with KTSC-TV, the campus-based PBS affiliate station.
So, with one paying TV job and a PBS gig under her belt, this former reporter is set to become the official spokesperson for the United States President.
It may have been a good time to bring in a person with experience, but that does not always seem to be a priority with the Bush Administration. The president is famous for giving jobs to his friends, but he doesn't always match people up with their skills, so to speak.
One example people in the southern Gulf states may particularly recall, is Bush's outgoing FEMA Director, Michael Brown. Before joining FEMA, Brown was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association.
So while it may not be overly surprising, it is still a curious strategy that a spokesperson with a background in medium-market TV news was selected to represent the U.S. President.
First impressions are not always lasting, and that surely works in the favor of Perino. Her first attempts at filling in for Tony Snow were clearly uncomfortable moments. In all fairness, that is a huge pair of shoes to fill.
When Snow stepped down temporarily and handed her the keys to the podium on March 27th, she was worried and tense. After revealing that Snow's surgery had just uncovered cancer on his liver and beyond, she broke down in tears.
But she did better after that, showing control in her delivery. Others say that her lack of experience as a news reporter makes her come across as less polished, and more genuine. Her blueish-green eyes and blond hair convey a pleasant quality, but only time will tell if she answers questions fully and pays attention to what those questions actually are.
In the first video below we hear Helen Thomas ask questions of Perino and she does her best to answer them. That certainly seems like progress for the post once held by the angry and defiant Scott McClellan. His anger and question deflection skills are so far, unparalleled.
Amid speculation that the White Press Corps is going to "eat her alive," others say she will just be the latest in line to filter questions and deflect attempts to answer the ones that would cast the administration in a harsh light.
At five foot, one inch, it seems inevitable that Dana Perino is going to have her hands full, representing a highly controversial president in the final year of his term.
Tony Snow Resigns as White House Spokesman
Deputy Perino to Take Job of Press Secretary
MICHAEL ABRAMOWITZ / Washington Post 1sep2007
White House press secretary Tony Snow announced his resignation yesterday, the latest in a series of departures that have reshaped the upper echelons of the administration with the addition of more low-profile replacements well versed in the ways of Washington.
Snow, who has been battling cancer, will be replaced by his deputy, Dana Perino, 35, a veteran press aide in the administration who is well liked by many of the reporters covering the president but has little of her predecessor's star power or on-camera experience.
The move comes as the White House is making a transition into a more defensive posture in which the focus will be on protecting key parts of the president's legacy, such as his Iraq policy and his signature education law, instead of launching grand initiatives.
The past few weeks have brought several other high-profile departures, including those of senior adviser Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Meanwhile, many of the new faces around the White House, such as counsel Fred F. Fielding and several lesser-known names, are seasoned veterans of Washington -- not the loyalists President Bush initially brought from Texas.
Bush made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room for the regular midday briefing, standing with Snow and Perino by his side. Of Snow, Bush said: "It's been a joy to watch him spar with you. He's smart; he's capable; he's witty."
Then he turned to Perino and described his new press secretary as "a smart, capable person who is able to spell out the issues of the day in a way that people listening on TV can understand." He added: "She can handle you."
"He leaves very big shoes to fill," the petite Perino quipped of Snow, "and I only wear a size 6."
Snow's departure has been widely anticipated, in large measure because he has been suffering from a recurrence of colon cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments that have left him looking gaunt and with thinning hair. But he insisted yesterday that he is leaving not for health reasons but to recoup the income he lost when he left his job as a radio and television host to take the $168,000-a-year job as press secretary.
"I ran out of money," he said.
As for his health, he said he is "doing fine." Snow said that he finished his last chemotherapy treatment two weeks ago and that his tumor has not grown. He said he will be facing "a maintenance dose of chemotherapy just to keep whacking this thing."
Snow was vague about his plans after his Sept. 14 departure, saying he expects to give speeches, stay involved in politics and step up his involvement in raising consciousness about cancer. He said he expects to write as many as two books, one about politics and his experience at the White House, another focused on his battle with cancer.
Snow was one of the most prominent press secretaries in recent memory, the star of what was widely known around the administration as "The Tony Snow Show," in which he bantered with reporters and zealously defended the administration's policies. He was considered less effective at the more mundane, yet important, aspects of the job -- tracking down facts for reporters and making sure they have what they need for stories and television spots.
That job fell to his less-heralded deputies, including Perino, who also spent considerable time explaining away errors or missed nuances in administration policies.
Snow's exuberance also led him into grand statements that he later regretted, such as when he explained the Iraqi parliament's month-long recess by noting that it's "130 degrees in Baghdad in August" -- even though U.S. soldiers were experiencing the same heat.
"He came in at a time when the president was particularly low, and as a result, what they wanted was someone who was adept at selling," said Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor at Towson University who wrote a recent book on White House communications. But she added: "If you work as an advocate, the downside is that people don't know whether to believe the information you are giving them."
Perino stepped in for Snow for more than five weeks after he had cancer surgery earlier this year. She indicated in an interview that she does not expect to make big changes in the White House press shop, nor does she see big problems between the White House and the press corps.
"I strongly believe we have good relations with the press," she said. "There's no doubt that these are high-pressure times for a government and a White House that is at war. All of that said, I think everybody approaches the job with true professionalism. I have fun working with the reporters I deal with."
She also said she has become more comfortable with speaking candidly to the president. "He and I have a good relationship where I can give my unvarnished opinion," she said.
White House chief of staff Joshua M. Bolten said Perino was the "clear choice" for the job. "While Dana doesn't yet bring the kind of star power that Tony brought to the podium from Day One," he said, "she will develop a lot of credibility with the broader public, because she is always well informed, always straight, always understandable."
Bolten also indicated that he expects the turnover in the administration to slow down. "I wouldn't be surprised if there were still some more departures," he said. "I don't expect a great deal more."
Coloradan Steps Right into the Media Spotlight
Dana Perino, 34, fills in as Bush's press secretary
CHRIS BARGE / Rocky Mountain News 31mar2007
When she was 6 years old, Dana Perino stood on a milk crate in her Denver house, held up an American flag, and told her parents, "I'm gonna work in the White House."
This week, the Colorado woman, 34, made her family proud and made her mother lose sleep by stepping in as acting press secretary for President Bush.
Choking back tears on Tuesday, her first assignment was to tell the world that her mentor, press secretary Tony Snow, 51, could face months of chemotherapy after a recurrence of cancer that spread to his liver.
That meant that Perino, the deputy press secretary, would be thrust into the media spotlight handling Snow's duties, including the White House press briefings.
"In many ways I feel like a student who did not go to class all semester but has to take a final, every day, for the foreseeable future," Perino said in a telephone interview Friday. "And I also have done it with a really heavy heart."
Her mother, Jan Perino, of Denver, has watched reporters pepper her daughter with questions this week on everything from Iraq to the controversial firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.
"I've lost sleep over this, I want you to know," her mother said. "I called her and told her that."
Born in Evanston, Wyo., Perino was raised in Denver since age 2. By third grade, she and her father, Leo Perino, were debating the news of the day at the dinner table.
"He wanted me to have read the newspapers and to have picked out one or two articles to discuss by the time he got home," Perino said.
"And then we always watched the evening news together and my Dad and I would always watch the Sunday shows as well."
Perino honed her speech skills on debate teams at Ponderosa High School in Parker, and later at the University of Southern Colorado - now called CSU-Pueblo. She got a side job as a disc jockey at a country music radio station and graduated in 1994.
"She's one of those girls that had it all," said her college roommate, Andrea Aragon.
Perino earned a master's degree at the University of Illinois at Springfield and was a television news reporter there for a year before then-Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo, hired her in 1995 as a staff assistant in his Washington, D.C., office. The congressman admired her pleasant but firm demeanor so much that he asked her to sit near his front door and take constituent complaints.
"I used to say, 'The kid's a star,' Just watch where she's going to go," McInnis said.
Perino soon became press secretary for the late Rep. Dan Schaefer, R-Colo..
When Schaefer retired, Perino moved to England to marry businessman Peter McMahon, whom she had met on a flight. While there, she spent time training their short-haired Vizsla, named Henry.
Now, when she says, "Tell us what you really think about John Kerry," Henry fetches a flip-flop.
Asked if "anybody thinks that Bill Clinton should be in jail," Henry barks.
She moved to San Diego for two years to work in public relations. After 9/11, she moved back to Washington to serve as spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice.
She later moved to the White House's Council on Environmental Quality and joined the White House press office staff in 2005.
Perino became a step-grandmother eight months ago when her 52-year-old husband's daughter had twins.
Perino awakes at 4:30 each morning to exercise. She gets to work at 6:30, where she often stays past 8 p.m.
While she lacks the polished delivery of Snow, a former Fox News commentator, Perino was sounding very much like him by Friday's press briefing, where she pushed back against demands that Bush allow his staff to testify on the record, under oath, about the U.S. Attorney firings.
"I just can't see how having show trials up on Capitol Hill would be any more out of touch with what the president is doing, which is getting on with the business of the day for the American people," she said.
Perino would provide a seamless transition if Snow did not return to work, said McInnis, who added that her biggest challenge will be dealing with the emotions of her boss' struggle with cancer.
"I just hope that doesn't come to be," Perino said.
"I'm happily serving as a deputy press secretary at the pleasure of the president. I think Tony Snow will come back. I think he needs to come back because it will help him recover."