Thereafter, Perino attended the University of Illinois at Springfield as a graduate student, eventually earning a master’s degree in public affairs reporting. She again found a position that merged her two interests, media and politics, and began working as a reporter at a local CBS affiliate covering Illinois Capitol matters before eventually making the move to Washington, DC.
During her first stint in DC, Perino worked for Representative Scott McInnis as a staff assistant and thereafter Representative Dan Schaefer as press secretary, a position she held for four years. After this time in Washington, DC, Perino briefly moved to England after marrying English businessman Peter McMahon, before relocating to San Diego and working in the field of high-tech public affairs.
Soon, though, Perino was drawn back to the nation’s capital. By 2001 she had returned to DC and joined the Department of Justice as a spokesperson before making the move to the White House — a goal that had been in existence since she was a child.
“You know, my mom had a friend who was — she worked in the Carter administration in the White House, and when I was seven years old, we came to Washington, DC. My dad had a conference, I believe, and — that’s back in the day when you took your family with you for these conferences — so my mom and I came, and my mom says that when I was at the White House I said, ‘Someday I’m going to work here,'' Perino explains.
Decades later, she does. As White House press secretary, a position she earned after serving as the spokesperson for the Department of Justice, director of communications for the White House Council on Environmental Policy Act, deputy assistant to the president, and deputy press secretary, Perino is making history as only the second woman to hold the position. (The first was Dee Dee Myers during the Clinton administration.)
Perino, who collects information about the happenings of the administration and the world and then disseminates it to members of the media, elaborates on her position: “You have to be very alert. You have to be ready to move on a moment’s notice. You have to be very flexible, and you have to sort of guide with a gentle hand. There’s also a lot of teamwork.”
Considering that Perino has only held the position for a brief time, the journey thus far has not always been an easy one. There have been many instances where Perino has taken flak for what she has said, what Bush has said, or what she didn’t know. In December, for example, Perino had an exchange with White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who is known for her aggressive techniques, over the Iraq war. The confrontation between the two was seen as a success for Perino, though, who stood her ground and offered a stern retort.
Another incident, however, was not as beneficial. While Perino was on the NPR radio show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, she revealed that until recently she was unfamiliar with the Cuban Missile Crisis. As explained in the Washington Post, “during a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.” This resulted in many observers calling for her resignation. As she herself admits, though, “the relationship between the press secretary and the media is always going to be adversarial.”
Nonetheless, when the spotlight is on and the time has come for Perino to interact with the press, she often delivers a crisp, detailed, confident, and well-informed presentation. And while a primary function of her job is to provide information to the press corps, she has been known to be firm and to put reporters in their place if she feels they are badgering her or overstepping their bounds, a la the Thomas incident.
Perino is immensely dedicated to her job. Her day begins at 4:30 a.m., when she wakes up and reads the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or State Department briefings while she exercises before getting ready and heading to the office. Once there, she begins a second round of information round-up and reads publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Times, and sometimes the Financial Times — all before 7 a.m. She then talks with the other members of the press office before attending a senior staff meeting.
Understanding that the primary function of her job entails ascertaining as much information as possible and crafting and maintaining a positive image, promoting the administration’s successes, and minimizing failures, among other duties, Perino’s ultimate goal is to be an effective and disciplined communicator.
Consequently, she realizes that the job she holds is not about fame, money, or prestige. As her husband, McMahon, explains, “it’s not about her; it’s about the president and the message.”