From Wyoming to the White House

The inaugural Autonomous podcast, with Fox News host Dana Perino — on sharing personal moments with President George W. Bush, advice for young girls, Twitter and meeting her husband on a plane

Dana Perino’s journey from growing up in Wyoming to serving as the first female GOP press secretary in the George W. Bush White House is one that takes us through country music DJ and quickly learning the ropes of D.C. after 9/11. We also talked Trump, how Twitter has changed the media and more of today’s stories —curated throughout the entire podcast. Here’s Perino on Trump and reality TV [16:20 in the podcast — all times are in brackets that correspond with the podcast below.]:

People’s perception of what entertainment is, and what they want to listen to, has evolved. And Donald Trump, not only does he sincerely believe he could make America great again, in his eyes, he also knew exactly how to capture imagination and attention in a way that is totally entertaining. Like, you can’t pull your eyes away. And he’s a great storyteller.

Perino had a close relationship with President Bush, and she talks about it in great detail. But one thing she said she’s tried to adopt this year is something she learned from him. This concept of “productive serenity”: “Politics is interesting and it’s fun and it’s important, but it’s not who we are as people. So I keep reminding myself — politics is what I do, it is not who I am.” [37:30] Listen to the full podcast here, or below, more quotes from the overall interview:

Perino grew up in Wyoming, and as a firstborn daughter, was a “rule follower” who “used to wake up everyday thinking I was in trouble for some reason even though I hadn’t gotten out of bed.” [5:40]

She started her lifelong appetite for news and politics by reading the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post everyday beginning in third grade. Her work career began in babysitting, telemarketing (specifically for the “Nordic Fitness Chair” — remember this?) and as a country music DJ. But her work in politics took her to D.C. right after 9/11. At a hockey game just a few weeks on her first job, she ran into someone who told her she should apply to be Rep. Dan Schaefer’s press secretary. But, she said, I just started this other job. “You have no idea how Washington works, you should apply,” the person told her. [20:15]

She got the job, worked her way up through the White House and eventually served as press secretary to President Bush. She remembered a moment flying with him after a meeting with parents of a wounded marine on life support. “He said, ‘that mama sure was mad at me.’ And then he looked out the window and he had a tear running down his face, and he said ‘and I don’t blame her one bit,’” she said. “I remember distinctly that he did not try to wipe away the tear. And we rode in silence back to the White House.” [29:45]

Other notes: meeting her husband in a chance encounter on a plane [22:00], what she learned at the Justice Department (“101 ways to say no comment”) [26:10], getting a black eye during the infamous shoe throwing incident involving President Bush [33:30], battling now-colleague Ed Henry in the briefing room (“Ed was an equal opportunity you know what”) [45:20] and, of course, Jasper’s fame [41:30].

Perino also discussed mentorship, and the importance for young girls. “My friends that have daughters in New York, they are surrounded by opportunity and they meet lots of people they can admire,” she said. But it wasn’t that way for her. Some advice for those not on the coasts [47:30]:

You can be a kid that grows up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and end up advising the President of the United States. You don’t have to go to Harvard or Yale. And you can’t plan it out.

As a major force on social media herself, she now offers to be the “tattletale” and follow her friend’s daughters on Instagram. [15:00] As for social media and the traditional media she once went head to head with at the White House: “One of the positive things that’s happened…is for the media, they are more cautious before hitting send now. And it’s not just because of the economic model, but because of the peer pressure. If you get something wrong, it is so mortifyingly embarrassing and everyone will know about it.” [11:00]

Thanks to Dana Perino:

I like to have a plan, I worry a lot but everything good that’s happened to me in my career and in my life happened not because I planned it but because I just happened to have my eyes and ears open at the right time.

Next week — Ali Velshi, formerly of Al-Jazeera America and CNN.

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