Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary to President Georege W. Bush, recently released her new book, “And the Good News is…” I had the opportunity to talk with Perino via phone about her new release and her time at the White House.
Beth Baumann: Thank you so much for talking to me. I won’t take up too much of your time…because I know you have your show soon [The Five.]
Dana Perino: Yes, but I carved out time just for you.
BB: Well thank you. I feel important. [laughs] So I have to say, I loved your book.
Dana Perino: Aw, thanks!
BB: I work in PR and write for PolitiChicks. There were things in the book that resonated that I thought were totally applicable.
Dana Perino: Oh good! I love hearing that from all sorts of different people but in particular from people who work in the communications field. Someone told me last week that a Congresswoman’s wife – Sean Duffy’s wife – said she thought that every young woman on Capitol Hill was carrying around my book, so that’s good.
BB: [laughs] It’s true. People who I know who are on the Hill or who work in Comms in D.C. have been reading your book.
Dana Perino: Good.
BB: So, my first question is: What eventually made you decide to write the book?
Dana Perino: A couple of things. For one, there’s a real supply and demand problem on my time, on most people’s time. And in particular, I would be asked often for mentoring advice to the point where I could spend hours on the phone calling friends’ daughters, nieces, sisters who were hoping to get you know, 10 minutes of time with me because I think for some reason, they thought that I could give them some sort of magic bean, some sort of magic formula that all of a sudden they would find their dream job.
Dana Perino: And I realized the questions were always the same. Over and over again asking me the same thing about you know, should I go to graduate school and all of the things I talk about in my book. And I just decided that I’m going to put it all of this down in one place so that I could continue to do one-on-one mentoring when I can but I just can’t reach as many people as I would have liked. And I also felt like I had something to contribute to history, a piece of history that had been missing. And that was the personal side of George W. Bush. What I’ve witnessed and experienced as the first Republican woman press secretary and working there for seven-and-a-half years and stayed in contact since. I write that he became more than just my boss, he became like a second father to me. And I wanted people to at least have the benefit of knowing that side of him in addition to all of the things that will continue to be written about him regarding politics and policy. You know, political decisions.
BB: Yeah, definitely. And I think that was the coolest aspect of your book was really seeing that different side of him and you know, talking about things the media didn’t get to see. That was definitely enlightening and really gives a perspective on history.
Dana Perino: Yeah, I think so. A lot of those historians, I think they do a very good job but they could have never written this book.
I also felt… I thought that the timing was right. You know, when I first left the White House, in those first couple years, there was one publisher that I knew. He asked me if I had considered writing a book. I said I had written down this outline and put it in my notebook – I’m sorry, my wallet. I had sort of forgotten about it. I didn’t really know what to do with it. But I’d always been a reader and I always wanted to write something but I never thought I had the skill. Until I sat down and started doing it. I loved the writing process. I loved it. And I think one of the things that makes me most happy is that the book is well received and being praised. I think that was one of the things that I was most worried about. I knew the stories were good and the advice was good and decent and would be helpful to people but the writing – when the reviews started coming back, in effect, someone said, “did you have a ghost writer?” [laughs]
I said, “I better take that as a compliment.” [laughs] But the first publisher I talked to – and I told him this is the kind of book I wanted to write – they said, “Oh, that would never sell.” And I said, “Okay. Fine.” And I dropped the idea. They wanted to do a book with me but they wanted something that would have been a fire-breathing Republican woman angry-at-the-world type of book. And I just said I’m never going to write that book. And I don’t have any political gossip to give. And I’m not going to turn my back on the President to write a book…that will fit your preconceived notions of what a Republican woman should write about.
Dana Perino: So someone who works with that publisher then moved over to Twelve and that’s my editor, Sean Desmond, and he had always loved the idea of my book. And he contacted me and said, “What if we did your book over here?” And I said, well, I was nervous. I said, “It’s not going to sell.” And he said, “I think that they want to give it a chance.” Then it debuts as number one on the New York Times Best Seller List, surprising everyone, including me.
BB: [laughs] And that was what I liked about your book too. I’ve read a lot of political books and sometimes I don’t get through them all because they frankly…
Dana Perino: …they’re boring.
BB: Yeah, they’re boring. And yours is short, sweet, to the point and it’s an easy read. It’s not mind-boggling. [laughs]. It’s to the point. And I appreciated that as a reader.
Dana Perino: Well, a lot of books that people in Washington are writing is to figure out how to get a leg up on something else – either to get more clients or to run for President or whatever it is.
Dana Perino: And things like, “And here’s why I’m for Social Security reform.”
Dana Perino: And I don’t have any aspirations to run for President or any political office. And here’s the other thing. I think the book is a real love story…Somebody called it “a love letter to America and her husband” and I thought, that’s exactly right. You know what’s surprising to me? A lot of the men who read the book loved that part of it. You know, there’s a lot of romantics out there.
BB: The biggest question I have is what’s it like being on the other side of the media? And having a publicist?
Dana Perino: Oh, well it’s interesting. Because when I was getting ready to do the PR roll out I told the publicity people, “I’ll do anything. Book me solid.” Then, I was going through those days where I was on the phone from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. doing radio interviews and publicity. And I never cried. But I did come close. And it gave me a better appreciation for the kind of demands on the author’s time that I had required on like a Karl Rove or Mrs. Bush and President Bush. I worked them hard. [laughs] So I got a better appreciation for what it’s like to try and spend that kind of energy. And the publicist I saw in Chicago on Sunday…she said, “I have to hand it to you, I didn’t think you’d be able to get through it all. And you never complained.” And I said I was close a few times and wanted to cry.
BB: [laughs] I know we sit here on our end and say, “Why aren’t they picking up their phone? Why are they having such a hard time with this stuff? Come on, it’s not that hard” but we’re never really in that role to see it firsthand.
Dana Perino: And it’s a little bit different. I can look at it and say, okay, we do actually need to give people time to um…eat lunch. I actually heard about an author who hung up the phone the other day during a radio interview. He said, “I’m sorry but I’ve got to go.” He hadn’t had a bathroom break in six hours. And he hung up on his interview. [laughs]
BB: The one thing that I really, really, really resonated with in your book was how you talked about how you were bullied as a kid…
Dana Perino: Yes.
BB: …and how you believe that lack of control subconsciously made you kind of want to be in control. As someone who kind of went through the same thing as a kid, I resonated with that. So, in your opinion, do you think that most communications professionals have similar experiences in their background that kind of lead them…?
Dana Perino: You know, as I get older, and we talk a bit more about bullying, I think every kid kind of went through it in some way. But not everyone starts out as a star quarterback or head of the cheerleading team. So, I think in some ways, they’re the comments and connections that at some point in your life, whether it was severe or misleading, we know what it’s like to be picked on. Mine actually manifested a little bit in fear because of the situation where I was bused so far away from home to go to school and my situation was so different, I didn’t want to tattle and tell my parents that I was scared.
And so I started – I wrote prayers. Every day and every night and on the bus, praying that no one would be mad at me or beat me up that day. And I think about those two years that I spent not studying, not growing, really falling behind in math at the time, and I’m so grateful that my parents were able to make that tough decision to move. It’s not that they didn’t want me in an integrated school, but they didn’t want me to be in a failing school. And basically, they saw all of my potential in a way. So I do think , that in some ways, it was at that point when I started realizing that there are things that you can say to make everybody happy, to calm a situation. And I did it, I write about it watching my parents argue. And I’d get so nervous. Like, “Why did he say it this way? He should have said it that way.”
And that did effect me. That time in my life did affect me later on. And not in a bad way, right? Everyone learns from their experiences. I think it could have crippled me But thankfully, my parents were able to get me out in time.
BB: Throughout your book, you discuss your relationship with President Bush and how he frequently gave you advice, like not worrying about things that hat are out of your control. It seemed similar to a father-daughter relationship that you mentioned. Could you go into greater detail about how having that second father role impacted you?
Dana Perino: Yes, definitely. In fact, I was just thinking about that because Father’s Day is coming up, and I think of a couple things. There’s this moment I’m thinking about. I can picture it in my mind. I’m with the President on Marine One and he’s asking my opinion on something. I remember I gave it. And I was very frank. And my position was not the popular one. [pauses and laughs] But I was right. And the President agreed with me. And I had this flashback to the kitchen table to reading newspapers with my dad. You know, he would make me read The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post and I had to choose articles to discuss with him before dinner.
And I think of how important that time was in my life as a young girl, that started when I was eight years old, to be able to express myself convincingly and to be persuasive through argumentation in front of a dominant male figure. It made my future career success possible. You see what I mean?
BB: Yes, exactly.
Dana Perino: It started really early. And my dad would say, “And why do you think that?” And “Well, what if it was this side?” He would always play devils advocate. And I’m sure, at first, it was very gentle, but you know, I remember him having the big discussions, kind of like what we have on The Five, but we would have those at our dinner table. [pauses] Actually, looking back on it, I never knew what my dad’s position really was. [laughs] I think it was challenging me to think better.
BB: To think critically.
Dana Perino: Yeah. And I think that time between fathers and daughters early on, help ensure confidence in the workplace in the future. I do. That’s my personal opinion.
BB: When you transitioned to The Five, you mentioned that you struggled voicing your own opinions vs. the opinions of someone else. What or who helped you feel comfortable enough to express your own thoughts?
Dana Perino: I think that my husband had a lot to do with it. I would also say Roger Ailes [Fox News Channel President]. Not because he ever said anything to me but because he didn’t. What I mean by that is I get here, I’m kind of nervous, no one gives me any feedback. Just the feedback that I would get from fans, friends, family, things like that. And I never really did want to go back and work in the PR world. I don’t want to. I will if I have to, if I have to feed myself, fine, I’ll go back and do PR. It sounds like to me you know what I’m talking about.
BB: [laughs] Exactly.
Dana Perino: And so, there’s at some point, the show became permanent and I got a three year contract, I said I would never, ever go back to do PR. I don’t have to go back and do it. And so I relaxed. And I realized the more fun that I feel like I’m having on the show, and I feel like I’m engaged and have a lot of energy and making a good point, then that comes across to the audience. And conversely, if I’m not, if I’m too shy, if I’m pulling my punches, if I’m trying to cover everything in language that keeps me safe, from never having to make a tough, from expressing an unpopular opinion, then the audience is going to know that too. And it would be boring.
So I would say a little bit of it was over time. I think Greg Gutfeld had a lot to do with it too. He thought I was funny, quirky, and I was silly. And I think he’s so funny. And sometimes I would follow his lead. Sometimes people say, “Oh, Gutfeld’s rubbing off on you.” And I have to say, “Actually, I have a humorous and funny bone too.” [laughs]
Dana Perino: Well, here’s the thing. Barney could definitely crush him [Jasper] but Jasper’s fast enough to run away. He could never catch Jasper. That’s the one thing. He’s the fastest dog that I’ve ever known. He is super fast. He’s obviously not as fast a Whippit or a Greyhound but I will say, he is definitely the fastest dog in our park.
BB: I do have to say though, I am a Barney fan. I grew up following him because my family are beloved Scottie people.
Dana Perino: Did you watch Barney Cam?
BB: Yes! I grew up watching Barney Cam. And when I met Eric Draper [Chief White House Photographer] at CPAC, I told him, “You know, I just loved your pictures of Barney when I was a kid.” [laughs]
Dana Perino: My friend, Jeanie Mamo, who worked at the White House with us, she ran Barney Cam. And you know, she started thinking about Barney Cam on January 1st of every year. It was such a big ordeal. But I meet so many people, especially people like you that were younger at the time, that loved Barney Cam. I was thinking about how Mrs. Bush knew – and she loved her dogs so much – that they wanted the dogs to get attention, but they knew that was one great way to connect with Americans. I feel like Jasper has done that for me. When I go to these book signings, everybody wants to know, “Where’s Jasper?” And so I created this thing, the Jasper stamp.
BB: [laughs] When is Jasper’s next appearnce on The Five?
Dana Perino: I don’t know yet. The producer, I don’t think he’s totally into it, to be honest. I’ve tried to explain to him that Jasper is a huge ratings bananza but he’s come on his birthday and he got to do the booking with Fox and Friends You were probably asleep with this at 3 a.m. where you are. It was really, really funny. And Brian Kelly gave him a gazillion, a gazillion treats. It was funny.
BB: People love America’s dog.
Dana Perino: You know why he’s called America’s dog? It’s not because I thought he was the best dog in America. It’s because I said that I would share him with all of America so that everybody could have a dog.
BB: Exactly. Even little kids who can’t have one.
Dana Perino: Yes!
BB: Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. It was great to talk to you.
Dana Perino: And nice to meet you. I hope I see you at the Reagan Library on Monday the 8th.