Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino shared her insights on advising the President, spotting trouble in advance and how government and business officials can better use the press to communicate with the public during her address at the Holt Distinguished Lecture hosted by the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Bedrosian Center on Governance.
Professor Raphael Bostic, director of the Bedrosian Center, moderated the Oct. 29 discussion with Perino, the 27th White House Press Secretary, who served under President George W. Bush.
Perino was promoted from Deputy Press Secretary when Tony Snow resigned as White House Press Secretary due to health issues, finishing off the last year and four months of Bush’s second term. She said the most important element as a communications person serving a principal is total trust and loyalty between the two. She could prepare the President for what was coming because she had a good sense of what he was thinking.
“He gave me total access to him and made it very clear to everyone in the administration that Dana’s calls get returned first,” Perino said of President Bush.
Perino provided details from her New York Times No. 1 bestselling book And the Good News is … Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side, which she signed for attendees following the lecture.
Relationship with the media
“I never thought of myself as a spokesperson for the Republican Party,” Perino said. “I was a spokesperson for the United States of America, and there is dignity and grace that comes with that position. You’re working not only to defend the President of the United States and advocate for his policies, you’re also responsible for protecting the access of the press to the government.”
Perino noted that she saw many in the press as personal friends. It would bother her when she felt that an article on a policy matter she explained missed the mark, but she wouldn’t blame the reporters.
“I always felt like the onus is on us to work harder to help reporters understand it so we are happy in the morning when the story shows up, or I guess now in the blog whenever it shows up,” Perino said. “The press should be considered a check on your administration or organization or the government office you work in.”
Bostic, who worked in the Obama Administration for three years as the Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, commented that the part of the job he found frustrating was that the communication function was so controlled, allowing him little leeway to have discourse with people.
Perino agreed, adding that today’s presidential candidates are better served taking an open communications approach with the media.
“Over time, communications departments have tried to lock things down,” Perino said. “I understand that tendency, because you want to control the message. That might have worked OK in the 1990s and into 2000, but with the way people get information and gather information today it doesn’t fit with the changing times.”
Intersection of policy, communications
The Dennis F. and Brooks Holt Distinguished Lecture brings prominent practitioners, influential policy makers and visiting scholars to USC to meet with students, faculty members and the public to discuss issues and research in communication and public policy.
“The Holt Lecture is always a highlight of the Bedrosian Center’s programming, and Dana Perino was an outstanding addition to its roster,” Bostic said. “Her range of experiences, and the insights she gained from them, were interesting and offered something of value for everyone who attended.”
In attendance at the event, held at USC’s Town and Gown ballroom, were Judith and John Bedrosian. It was Judith, a regular viewer of Perino’s current post as co-host of The Five on Fox News, who recommended Perino for the speaker series.
“I have been impressed with Dana Perino since she was the Press Secretary for President Bush,” Judith Bedrosian said. “That’s a hard job to handle the questioning she got, and she did it with grace and knowledge. I was so pleased she agreed to be a Holt distinguished speaker.”