As White House Press Secretary Dana Perino prepares to leave her job, she is offering some blunt personal views on the state of the news media and on political commentator and syndicated columnist Ann Coulter’s role in how Republican women are viewed.
Ms. Perino, President Bush’s fourth and final press secretary, began the day at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters. A little over an hour later, Perino conducted her 145th and last White House briefing which opened with a humorous slide show about the press.
While pledging never to write a book that was “degrading toward somebody else” Perino said she had given thought to a book on Republican women. “ I have thought about some ideas of things I would like to explore, especially about Republican women who I think are misunderstood and miscast and ridiculed,” she told reporters over breakfast.
“Ann Coulter is very popular. She has got a niche. She is a best selling author, but she does not represent Republican women,” Perino said. “ I think there is room out there to show the grace and dignity of women like Laura Bush.”
Since she succeeded Tony Snow as presidential spokesperson in September 2007, Perino has been able to observe the press closely. She told the standing room only crowd at her final briefing, “I really do think for the sake of democracy and for the sake of our country we need to have more of you.” But, she added, “it’s quite remarkable that everyone says they want to add more commentary to their news pages. In some ways, I think, well, how is that even possible. It seems sometimes that that’s all that there is.”
Over breakfast, Perino was especially critical of reporters who write a news story on one day and then the next day write “an analysis piece that is just thinly veiled opinion.” While noting that there is some real analysis being produced, “Most analysis to me now is just basically a chance for reporters to use a lot more adjectives and adverbs. And it is very hard then for a press secretary the next day to go back to working with that reporter as an objective journalist.”
But she made a point at the briefing saying that “the people that are covering the president out of here, and the presidency, strive so hard to be fair.”
Incoming press secretary Robert Gibbs and Perino have talked about the difficulty of controlling an administration’s message. “Controlling the message is just hard, and I talked to Robert a little bit about this. Because any press secretary wants to be more pro-active, but you end up being very reactive because news is happening all over the world all the time,” she said.
Reporters send the White House press secretary a staggering amount of email seeking information, Perino said. Last weekend, she worked hard to clean out her email in-box and left on Friday with 997 emails. On Monday, the inbox contained 2,172 messages. “And that is mostly from reporters asking me every little thing and some big things and it is completely overwhelming,” she said at breakfast.
“We have been counting down the days and nights, just crawling to the finish here even though I am supposed to be sprinting to the finish,” she said.
To decompress, on inauguration day, Perino and her husband, Peter McMahon, will leave on a six-week trip to Scotland, Abu Dhabi, and South Africa. Their stay in Africa will include two weeks volunteering at an HIV-AIDS clinic funded by PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
At the morning briefing, Perino declined to offer advice to her successor. “I wish my successor, Robert Gibbs, all the very best. Please go easy on him -- for a week.”