On Thursday morning, the Bedrosian Center of the Price School of Public Policy hosted former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino at Town and Gown for an installment of the Holt lecture series. Hosted by Bedrosian Center Director Raphael Bostic, the lecture covered Perino’s background as a press secretary, her thoughts on politics and the evolution of digital journalism.
Bostic started the event by describing Perino’s long résumé, including her roles as co-host of the Fox News show The Five, White House Press Secretary during the George W. Bush administration and New York Times best-selling author.
Perino used the first half of the lecture to discuss her background and comment on her experiences in the political and journalism worlds. Speaking of her time at the White House, she said she was comfortable with her role “behind the scenes” until former press secretary Tony Snow asked her to fill in when he was diagnosed with cancer. She said her role as press secretary taught her about “nobility in public service” and said that when working in any major institution, it is easy to acquire a large ego.
“When you work in any organization, but especially the White House, there is a risk that you can get a big head about it and form White House-itis,” Perino said.
Perino said she learned from her former Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. to “realize the humility of public service” and that it was important to know that “you are working on behalf of the citizens of the United States of America.”
When speaking on her political experience, she described the large range of contacts she gained in Washington, including professional contacts across many national governmental departments, to fulfill her role as press secretary. Perino also highlighted her experiences with those across the political aisle as well, noting many Democratic connections she had made in Washington.
“I had friends from both sides of the aisle, It was a great career opportunity, which enhanced my life,” she said. “I never thought about myself as spokesperson for the Republican Party — absolutely not. I was spokesperson for the United States of America.”
Recalling a trip in which she traveled with President Bush to Iraq, Perino described an infamous situation in which a shoe was thrown at the president. During the chaos, she was hit in the eye with a boom pole resulting in a black eye. Upon her return to Air Force One, Perino said none of the press took her photo due to the respect they had developed for her during her tenure. Perino recalls their actions as those of great civility and an approach we should take in politics in general.
“Having that kind of relationship with the press, that they would protect you personally, is something that we should all strive to do,” she said. “We live in the greatest country in the world, and yes, we can have discussions and big debates, but we really need to start remembering that we are all pulling for the same thing. We may just have different ideas on how to get there.”
Perino mentioned the role of Twitter and social media in modern journalism. She described her experience with digital media as a “love-hate relationship.” Perino said the rise of digital media created a large change in the journalism field which produced an awkward yet worthwhile transition.
“I started as press secretary in 1995, and I worked [in Washington] through 2008, so I saw big change [in journalism.] When I first heard about Twitter I thought, ‘Oh God, I don’t need to do that, who has time for Twitter?’ I would always get frustrated that reporters would want to get the story out first and ask questions later.” she said. “The great thing about Twitter is that there is now a peer pressure check. I think that that is improving [journalism] and will continue to do so.”
Perino said her experience with Twitter made her more receptive to other forms of social media.
“Another example is Snapchat … the numbers of young people following the debates on Snapchat is in the tens of millions,” she said. “Because of my [prior] skepticism with Twitter, I’m trying to not be a Neanderthal when it comes to things like Snapchat.”
Kyle Abbott, a senior majoring in policy, planning and development, noted Perino’s ability to steer a conversation.
“I was really impressed with her ability to handle the Republican-Democrat dichotomy,” Abbott said. “I was also impressed with Perino’s ability to connect with everyone in the audience at the same time.”