What Dana Perino's Time In The White House Was Really Like

At the tender age of 7, Dana Perino had the opportunity to visit the White House. She was enchanted by what she saw, so much so that she decided then and there that she would walk its halls one day, telling her parents, "One day I am going to work in the White House." Most parents would probably smile and nod, knowing how short-lived a 7-year-old's dreams can be, but Perino's wasn't.

Before working her way up to serving as a member of former President George W. Bush's administration, Perino was just a Denver girl who couldn't wait to read her local newspaper every morning. Her father, who noticed his daughter enjoyed reading newspapers more than fashion magazines, started to discuss the news with her. "I didn't realize it until later, [but] he played the devil's advocate in a gentle way that encouraged my critical thinking development as well as my ability to articulate myself in some way," Perino wrote in her book "And the Good News Is... Lessons and Advice From the Bright Side."

In junior high, Perinio was on the speech team, and as her high school education progressed, she realized that she loved political commentary, which led her to pursue a career in journalism. Little did she know that she was well on her way to making history at the White House in a few years' time.

Dana had several jobs that prepared her for work at the White House

Dana Perino is the physical embodiment of the word hustle. While completing her college education at Colorado State University-Pueblo, she worked at the school's television and radio stations and was a member of its speech team. She was also part of a show titled "Capitol Journal," which presented her with the opportunity to visit the capitol twice a week. After landing a journalist internship at the state capitol, she realized she no longer wanted to work in that field. "[U]nless I was doing the state capitol stuff, I was bored," Perino wrote in her book, "And the Good News Is..."

She ended up taking a job as a staff assistant for then-state senator Scott McInnis. It was her first job in Washington D.C., and it lasted all of six weeks before Perino took a job as Congressman Dan Schaefer's press secretary until he retired two and a half years later. Perino then met her husband, got married, lived in England for 10 months, came back to the States, and worked for a San Diego city councilman, a political consulting firm, and a PR firm before heading back to D.C. after 9/11 to work as a spokesperson at the Department of Justice. Perino was about to start work at the Treasury Department when then-press secretary Scott McClellan approached her about working as his deputy. Perino responded with a 'hell yes,' and the rest is history.

Dana Perino was planning to resign on the day she was asked to take on the job as press secretary

Working in the White House press office was everything Dana Perino had dreamed of, but the job was taking its toll, and she was in dire need of a break — or so she thought.

The year was 2007, and President George Bush's term was ending in 18 months. Perino decided that it was time to head out the door. "I was exhausted," she wrote in her book, "And the Good News Is..." She decided to inform the counselor to the president, Ed Gillespie, of her decision to leave the White House, but then he sprung some unexpected news on her. "I was about to blurt out my news when he asked if he could go first," Perino wrote. "He said, 'The president would like to make you the press secretary on Monday.'" Perino did not see it coming. She knew her predecessor, Tony Snow, had colon cancer, and it turned out that he was stepping down to focus on his health, so she was next in line for the job. "Immediately I saw my career change forever — this was the highest position in my field," Perino wrote. She added that she had some doubts about taking on the job. She thought that, perhaps, the president had appointed her simply because it was more convenient than finding someone else in the nick of time. Still, she decided to seize the opportunity.

She made history as the first Republican woman to become the White House press secretary

Before Dana Perino, there was only one other female White House press secretary — Dee Dee Meyers, who served in Bill Clinton's administration. Perino, however, made history as the very first Republican woman to step into the role.

Her transition into the job came with some hiccups, however. While delivering a lecture for the Holt Distinguished Lecture Series, Perino revealed that, while she was acting press secretary in Tony Snow's stead, she stood on an apple box behind the podium in the press briefing room because she was certain he would come back and didn't want the White House spending unnecessary money on a new podium. After her first week filling in for Snow, one of her employees, Carlton Caroll, told her the apple box wasn't working — Perino's head was in the way of the White House seal all week, and it read "White Ho" instead. Luckily, that was the only embarrassing thing that happened before Perino took on the job full-time, and she laughs about it today.

Despite some of these hilarious mishaps, Dana Perino took her job very seriously. "I made a commitment to myself to always say a prayer of gratitude when I walked into the West Wing at the White House ... for strength and support in order to make sure I was doing the best that I could possibly do on behalf of the American people," she told Colorado Politics.

She was incredibly nervous for her first day of work as White House press secretary

Being named the first female Republican press secretary was no small feat, and Dana Perino felt a tad intimidated by her new role. She also knew that Tony Snow did a stellar job and was nervous about filling his shoes. Needless to say, Perino's first day as the White House's new press secretary was nothing short of nerve-wracking.

Perino's friend, Margaret Spellings, who was the Secretary of Education at the time, suspected that the new press secretary's nerves were hanging by a thread and called Perino to ask how she was doing. "Well, actually, I'm pretty nervous," Perino said, to which Spellings responded, "Well, you're gonna have to put your big girl panties on and deal with it!" Perino did just that and ended up making the job look easy.

In an essay Perino wrote for Fortune, she revealed that landing one of the most prestigious jobs in America taught her a valuable lesson. "[It] helped me realize that it doesn't matter where you come from," she wrote, adding, "Whether you went to an Ivy League school or grew up in a city or come from a farm, you can end up advising the president in the Oval Office."

She got kicked out of the Oval Office by President George Bush

On her first day as White House press secretary, Dana Perino put on her big girl panties just as her friend advised, and it was a good thing too, because shortly after she took on her new role, President George Bush kicked her out of his office.

It was the perfect storm — a reporter was set to have an interview with Bush, and Perino's boss, Dan Bartlett, told her to sit in on it. It was the first time Perino ever set foot in the Oval, but her stay was very short. It turned out that Bush had never agreed to the interview, and he was very irritated as a result. During an interview with Page Six, Perino revealed how it all went down. Bush called Bartlett and gave it to him straight. "The president says, 'Wait, I'm not doing an interview with that guy. No, Dan, I said I would talk to him, I didn't say I did an interview with him.' Well, that was a big miscommunication,'" Perino recalled. "You can imagine who won that argument," she added.

Once the president had dealt with Bartlett, he turned on Perino. "[He] cocked his head [and] basically said, 'See yourself out,'" she told the outlet. She called her husband in tears after, who consoled her by saying, "Well just think, for the rest of your life, you can say, "I've been kicked out of better places than this." Touché.

President George Bush mentored her

It might be safe to say that Dana Perino and President George Bush didn't get off on the best foot, but they did end up having a beautiful working relationship. Bush even gave Perino some career advice on a few occasions, telling her not to be afraid of taking risks and instead ask herself, "What's the worst that can happen?" It's become her motto since. "He was a great mentor," she told Page Six, adding that Bush loved doling out career advice because he genuinely wanted to help others find their path.

Speaking to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Perino said that she learned many lessons during her time working alongside Bush, one of which is that being forgiving when you work in politics is vital. "The president's example and lessons of forgiveness in politics is something I utilize daily. It frees me to be my best, to be free of resentment and hurt, and to be more empathetic," she said.

Something else Perino learned from Bush is not to fret too much about what people will say about your work in a couple of years. "I remember the president's quiet serenity about his legacy," she revealed, adding, "I understand better now why he was unconcerned about the questions of today — there's a long arc to history. And I am so glad to see that the arc is already bending back to people realizing what a wonderful man President Bush is ... yes, I miss him yet."

She was criticized for not being tough enough

You only have to watch a couple of White House press briefings to know that being the press secretary isn't an easy job. You get bombarded with questions you are forced to respond to, and saying "no comment" too many times can sometimes do more harm than good. You have to be able to think on your feet and deal with pushy and sometimes downright rude reporters. Dana Perino did this for 18 months, and her time as White House press secretary wasn't always a smooth ride — she faced plenty of criticism at times, often for "not being tough enough" on journalists who badmouthed the president.

Speaking to Knowledge at Wharton, Perino said that she knew how dirty politics could get and that it's often a volatile work environment where people aren't afraid to be rude, but she didn't want to be that person when she stepped into the role of press secretary. "[I] was following his [President Bush's] lead and also being true to myself," she told the outlet, adding, "Every time I open my mouth, I have a choice to make." She explained that her lack of aggression is one of the reasons she would never be able to successfully run for office (nor does she have any desire to do so). Over the course of her career, Perino has learned that she has to be able to own what she says, and therefore, she always thinks twice before responding to others.

She lost her cool on a reporter once and felt really bad about it

During her candid chat with Knowledge at Wharton, Dana Perino revealed that, despite her best intentions to always be polite when she did press briefings, she once snapped at a reporter who wasn't paying attention, and she felt so bad about it that she called the journalist after to apologize.

"I can be snarky and sarcastic, and I can deliver a line that is like the atomic elbow, but I don't do it in public for a reason," Perino told the outlet, adding that her conscience would bother her to no avail if she did. So when she took a jab at a New York Times reporter during one of her briefings, she felt terrible afterward, even though she had reason to be irritated. "[S]he wasn't paying attention to the rest of the briefing. The questions she asked had already been asked and answered several times, and I was irritable because I hardly ate anything during the whole [time I was there]," Perino explained, adding, "I was frustrated, and I took a shot at her on international live television, and I have felt bad about it ever since."

When she called to apologize, the reporter was very nice about it, telling her, "Oh, I didn't even notice," but Perino still felt bad. "I know how I feel when I say something with a sharp tongue against somebody else, so that bothers me," she admitted.

She was a firm believer that the press has the right to be informed

Dana Perino believed that the press had the right to be informed about what goes on behind the White House walls. Perino told Colorado Politics that her approach to the press was that of someone who refused to entertain egoistic reporters while still ensuring she was informing them of current events in an unbiased way.

"Back then I would spend about 50% of my time defending the president, but the other 50% of my time defending the press' right to have access to information and to the president himself. And I think that was the right formula for me," she told the outlet.

During a speech Perino delivered for the Holt Distinguished Lecture Series, she explained that she made her job easier by forging good relationships with members of the press. "I never think of the press as an enemy. The press should be considered as a check on your administration or on your organization or of the government office that you work in," she said. She added that she was a firm believer that the press secretary was responsible for relaying information in a way that left little room for misinterpretations and misunderstandings. When headlines looked bad, Perino took some of the blame on herself instead of just blaming the press for presenting a distorted version of the truth. "The onus is on us to work harder to help reporters understand it," she said.

She once got hit in the face during a press briefing

When you're the White House press secretary, you don't exactly expect to be subjected to physical harm, but Dana Perino wasn't as lucky during her tenure.

There were only six weeks left before President George Bush would step down as the President of the United States, and up until that point, Perino had never gotten as much as a scratch during press briefings (not the physical kind, anyway). She was accompanying the president to Baghdad for a press conference and was excited about the presence of the Iraqi reporters. That is, until one of them decided to throw their shoes at President Bush's head. When the Secret Service noticed what was about to happen, they hurried to protect the president, and in the process, one agent knocked a boom mic stand smack into Perino's face. Ouch! "[I]t was obviously extremely painful," Perino told NPR, adding, "[H]e [the president] had told the doctor who had checked on him quickly, 'Go find Dana. She's crying but I don't know what happened.'"

After his address, Bush approached Perino to hear what the matter was. "[H]e put his arm around me [...] and he said, 'What happened? I saw you crying, but I thought it was just because the guy threw a shoe at me.'" Perino, with her brand-new black eye, replied, "Well, sir, I adore you, but I grew up in Wyoming and I'm a little tougher than that."

She used to secretly flip off reporters who drove her mad during briefings

Dana Perino might've looked cool and calm during her press briefings, but what reporters didn't know is that she had a secret weapon — two, to be exact.

Speaking to NPR, Perino revealed how she kept it together during intense press briefings, and it turns out there was a strategy behind that calm demeanor everyone saw on camera. One of the main things she kept in mind was that she was representing the president, and anything she did — good or bad — would reflect back on him. "I would imagine if President Bush were watching the briefing, if he was not going to be proud of something I was saying, then I didn't say it," she said.

Other times, however, she needed a stronger coping mechanism. During the interview, Perino referred back to a cocky reporter who drove her mad because they were always trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. She had to find another way to deal with them, and she did. "Sometimes, just under the podium holding my glass of water, I would flip him the bird," she disclosed, adding that the first time she ever publicly divulged this information was in her book, and she used it as an opportunity to apologize. "I apologized to the reporters, I apologized to President Bush and I also say that — who knows? — maybe the reporters were flipping me off too," she said.

She made quite an impression on President Barack Obama

Dana Perino first met former President Barack Obama at a dinner in 2005 when she was working as the White House's deputy press secretary. During a chat with Knowledge at Wharton, Perino revealed that, despite what many others have to say about working in Washington, she had the time of her life. "My experiences weren't only good because I knew Republicans. I had a lot of friends from both sides of the aisle," she said. Thanks to her love for mingling, Perino and Obama hit it off right away. "[W]e laughed our butts off for hours," she recalled.

When she met Obama again three short years later, she didn't think he would remember her, but he did. "[H]e's at the White House — now I'm the press secretary, he's the candidate — and I went to introduce myself. He says, 'Dana Perino, that was my favorite night in all of Washington,'" she recalled. Once Obama became president, he nominated Perino to be appointed to the Broadcasting Board of Governors despite her vocal criticism of his administration at the time. Perino was excited to take on the job. While this unlikely acquaintance might baffle some, Perino summed it up perfectly in her interview with Knowledge at Wharton: "[J]ust because you might disagree with somebody on a policy position doesn't mean that you can't enjoy their company and enjoy each other as Americans and human beings." Hear! Hear!

Her time in the White House was incredibly stressful

While being the White House press secretary is arguably one of the coolest jobs there is, it's not exactly for the faint of heart.

In her book, "And the Good News Is..." Perino chronicles her time at the White House and doesn't beat around the bush (no pun intended) when talking about the physical and mental demands the job placed on her during the 18 months she served in President George Bush's administration. It's not all doom and gloom, though — Perino also shares how she used to take on the role of makeup artist whenever members of the administration were traveling. "On trips ... with a skeletal staff, I doubled as the makeup artist. I carried a set of powders that [Bush] tolerated but wiped off as soon as the cameras were off," she revealed.

As her time as press secretary came to a close, Perino's body also started to protest against her crazy work schedule. "The last seven months were the hardest," she admits in her book. "I couldn't sleep without a pill, my stomach wanted only bland foods, and I often forgot to eat until my assistant made me order something." As if that wasn't bad enough, she also dealt with maddening back pain, so much so that she paid the White House osteopath a visit three times a week. Yet, she enjoyed her time as press secretary, telling Colorado Politics that it was nothing but an honor.