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And the Good News Is...
Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side
By Dana Perino
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Thoughtful, inspiring, and often surprising, And the Good News is . . . traces Dana Perino’s unlikely journey through politics and television. It’s a remarkable American story-made up of equal parts determination and clear-eyed optimism.
From facing professional challenges and confronting personal fears to stepping up to a podium for a President, Dana has come to expect the unexpected and has an uncanny ability to find the good news in any tough situation. And the Good News is . . . takes us from her Western childhood in Wyoming and Colorado to a chance meeting on an airplane that changes her life entirely. Then, with refreshing honesty and humor, she recounts her frustration with a string of unsatisfying jobs and living circumstances until a key career tip leads her back to Washington, D.C. to work for the Bush Administration.
Dana also shares here her best work and life lessons-tips that will help you to get your point across convincingly while allowing your own grace and personality to shine through. As someone who still believes in working together to solve the problems our nation faces, Dana offers clear, practical advice on how to restore civility to our personal and public conversations. The result is a fascinating read that can help anyone become more successful, productive, and joyously content.
Table of Contents
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The Black Eye of Baghdad
I knew the job of a White House press secretary would be hectic and demanding, but I never expected I'd come to physical harm. I'd almost finished the job without a scratch when a top-secret trip to Baghdad, six weeks before President George W. Bush left office, changed all of that.
It was December 2008, and a very small team at the White House was assigned to work on a covert trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be the President's last overseas trip on Air Force One, and we had to be extra careful to keep it all under wraps because the press was already nosing around. Reporters that covered the President suspected that he'd want to see the troops one last time. They knew his style.
I was in charge of the press part of the trip, and I worked with Gordon Johndroe, my deputy press secretary for national security, to figure out our piece of the puzzle. Thankfully, Gordon has a good poker face. It was awkward to tell white lies to our colleagues about our weekend plans, and we had to sneak out "to get coffee" so we could talk without being overheard. I didn't like keeping secrets from my team, but I understood why we had to.
We put together a group of reporters, photographers, and a camera crew to make up the press pool. Only the editor and the journalist of each organization could know about the trip. And in turn, the reporter could only tell one family member (also sworn to secrecy). Just one leak and the trip would be canceled.
I was under the same rules—only my husband, Peter, was aware of where I was going. He was concerned—not about the flight, as there's no safer plane than Air Force One—but about potential hostile action on the ground. He knew that once we landed, the enemy might try to take a shot at disrupting our plans or even harming the President. And we had another problem. That weekend, Peter was to be the best man at a friend's wedding at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He'd have to make up an excuse for me. He ended up apologizing for my absence by saying that I had to work, which was true but a lame excuse for missing a wedding.
As the sun was setting in Washington on December 13, the handful of us going on the trip were picked up from our homes in unmarked cars and driven to Andrews Air Force Base. There we waited for the President and National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, to fly in from Camp David. The President was wearing a black baseball cap that said "43" and a tan canvas jacket. At the bottom of the ladder to the plane, he paused and, grinning, said, "Who's ready? Let's go!" before bounding up the steps.
As soon as we got on board, I made a beeline for the conference room near the front of the plane and set down my bag. That room has a large oval table with big swivel chairs all around it, and a video screen for secure teleconferences or watching TV. Most of the senior staff liked to sit in there to work, have a chat, and sometimes play cards. Along the side of the room is a comfortable bench that curves around in a semicircle shape under the video screen. Since there weren't beds for all of us to lie down on, I staked out that spot because I was the smallest person on the staff and could fit there comfortably. We settled in for the thirteen-hour flight.
A couple of hours before our arrival in Iraq, we got up and took turns getting ready in the small restrooms and making ourselves presentable. I was pretty good at changing clothes in a space that was only slightly bigger than a phone booth. I washed, put on a bit of makeup, and brushed my hair in ten minutes.
For safety's sake, Air Force One's pilot, Colonel Mark Tillman, descended quickly in a tight spiral over the protected airspace. The President watched from the cockpit, and after a couple of minutes, we settled gently onto the runway. Our first stop: Baghdad.
President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spent the day in meetings on everything from troop training to insurgents to economic reform. The most important issue on the agenda was the Status of Forces Agreement that President Bush was trying to finalize with the Iraqis. Unfortunately, Maliki didn't fully accept the agreement, but they agreed to keep working on it. Then we headed into the press conference at another location. The motorcade ride was bumpy, but aside from being jostled we got there in one piece.
I went in the back door, ahead of the leaders. This was an historic moment—it was the last time that President Bush and the Prime Minister of Iraq would appear together. The room was full of security guards and about two dozen journalists, including our press pool. We took our seats on the side of the room. To my left was Ed Gillespie, the counselor to the President, and on my right was the interpreter, with a boom microphone that was set on a steel arm. The room was relatively small and filled with technical equipment—cameras, lights, and cables wedged in around all of the people.
I felt some solidarity with the Iraqi reporters who were seated in the first two rows. I told Ed they grew up thinking they'd never get the chance to ask their leader a question, let alone the President of the United States. I silently cheered them on—but not for long.
President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki stepped up to their podiums and began their opening remarks. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of those "journalists" reach down and yank off his shoe and hurl it hard and fast at President Bush's head. He ducked and the shoe hit the wall. BAM! Immediately, the shoe thrower took another shot. BAM! Thankfully, the President dodged that shoe, too, and he didn't seem angry or afraid, but bemused. His look said, "What is wrong with you?"
I, however, was whimpering, but not in fear. As the second shoe was being thrown, the President's Secret Service agent charged forward to protect him, and he knocked the mic stand. The steel arm whipped around and hit me in the face on my upper cheekbone, just under my right eye. I didn't see it coming because I'd been looking the other way toward the leaders. I yelped and fell into Ed. The pain pierced, and I was like a cartoon character seeing stars.
I also had a fleeting thought that we were about to be blown up, and that the shoe throwing was a distraction for a bigger and deadlier attack. I looked to the back of the room, where all of the camera equipment and empty cases were stacked—a perfect place to hide a bomb—and thought, "Here we go."
Luckily, shoes were the only weapons being used.
Ed held my head to his chest and I clamped my hand over my eye. We waited for instructions to leave through the back door. While I bit the inside of my cheeks to defer the pain, the shoe thrower was learning a little something about manners from the Iraqi security forces. They had him on the ground, and he was screaming much louder than I had.
Through the commotion, President Bush was assuring his security that he was okay, and he waved them back. He said into his microphone, "Don't worry, it's fine. Everyone calm down. We're going to finish this." He locked eyes with the agent in charge and nodded—that was his final answer.
Prime Minister Maliki, on the other hand, was wobbly. He was embarrassed by the security breach and that one of his countrymen had actually thrown shoes at his guest. Maliki assumed, as I did, that the event would have to be canceled. But President Bush wasn't going to let a two-bit shoe thrower run him out of the room, and he kept Maliki at the podiums and proceeded to call on the reporter that had been interrupted. The reporter was a bit flustered, but he tried to follow the President's lead and proceed as normal.
My face was screaming in pain, but I was silent. When I realized that we weren't leaving right away, I looked for a way out. I wasn't sure what kind of damage the microphone stand had done, but it couldn't be good. I knew the White House medical team was nearby and I needed to get to them. A U.S. Marine came to my rescue. He'd seen me get hit and reached out his hand to pull me up and over the chairs to the door.
But I was still trapped. The Iraqis had shut down the exits and wouldn't let anyone out of the room. They were following orders to secure the crime scene. I took my hand away from covering my eye to show them I needed help. I said, "I need a doctor."
The Iraqi security guard blocking my way lit up with a smile, thumped his chest, and said, "Oh! I am doctor!" wanting to help. (He was one of many professional Iraqis—engineers, physicians, and lawyers—that had taken good-paying security jobs during the war.) He meant well, but I was starting to panic and feel claustrophobic in the small room, the pain throbbing under my eye.
"Um… my doctor?" I pleaded. The Marine kept his hand on my back to protect me.
Dr. Richard Tubb, the White House's chief medical officer, was looking for me, too. He'd heard from the President and his agents that I'd been hurt but they didn't know how. He'd quickly checked out the President, and then the President asked him to go find me because he'd seen me crying but didn't know why. In the chaos, Dr. Tubb saw me and got a Secret Service agent to help ease my way into the hall.
Dr. Tubb took a quick look and said, "Oh my," and gave me a plastic bag filled with ice and told me to hold it on the spot. He didn't think the bone was broken, but it was swollen like a robin's egg and he couldn't be sure. I saw the bag was labeled DIARRHEA. I joked with the doctor, "What the heck was in this bag before you put ice in it?" We laughed but it hurt when I smiled. "Ouch," I said and put the bag back up to my eye.
I didn't get to rest for long. A few minutes later when my heartbeat slowed, I suddenly remembered that President Bush was going to be interviewed by ABC's Martha Raddatz. For the same reasons the President wanted to continue the press conference—to project normalcy—I wanted to keep the interview on time despite the chaos. I thought the President needed to be on record as soon as possible to show the folks back home that he was fine, calm, and unbothered by having shoes thrown at his head.
Before I could brief the President, I needed to do his TV makeup. On trips like that with a skeletal staff, I doubled as the makeup artist. I carried a set of powders that he tolerated but wiped off as soon as the cameras were off. I got my kit ready and waited for him in a hold room with the bag of ice still pressed onto my eye.
The President rushed into the room to find me after the press conference. He leaned down and put his arm around me and asked, "What happened? I saw you were crying but I thought it was just because the guy threw a shoe at me." I leaned into him and let myself be comforted for a second, but I tried to lighten the mood and said, "You know I love you, Mr. President—but I grew up out West, and I'm a little tougher than that!"
Then I made him sit down so that I could powder his forehead and nose and run the comb over his hair, asking him mock questions that I thought Martha might ask. He seemed ready to go, "This isn't my first rodeo," he said jokingly. He got through the interview just fine, of course.
After dinner with the Iraqis and U.S. military and embassy personnel, we finally said good-bye and motorcaded to Air Force One. "So, that went very well," I said to Gordon, and we just looked at each other, shook our heads, and giggled nervously. We'd planned for everything but flying shoes.
The plane felt like home—and it was safe. The nurse gave me some more Advil and told me to keep the ice on the bruise on the flight to Kabul, Afghanistan. But no one told me not to lie down.
My colleagues wanted to work in the conference room, so I gave up my sofa spot and headed to the staff cabin, which had ten chairs, five on each side of a table where people could eat or work. The chairs were big enough for me to curl up in, but since they'd already turned down the lights and I couldn't see, I grabbed one of the floor mats and a fleece blanket and lay down, huddled against the wall. It was just a few hours to our next stop.
The floor was cold, but I didn't want to move. It hurt when I moved my head, and the area under my eye still throbbed, though not as badly. When the crew served breakfast, I smelled the coffee and started to get up. I returned my mat and blanket to the storage closet and walked into the conference room. I hadn't seen myself yet, but my colleagues' reaction let me know it was bad. They gasped and Mark Thiessen, a Presidential speechwriter and hockey player, put his hands over his mouth. "Oh no, did you lie on your side? All the blood pooled there!" I checked the mirror in the bathroom next door. My eye was pitch-black and the right side of my face was swollen like E.T.
Makeup was useless. Nothing covered the bruise, and my cheek was tender to the touch. I did what I could to look presentable with a sponge bath using the tiny bathroom sink. I put my hair in a clip and changed into warmer clothing. As we were settling into our seats for the landing, the President came to find me and winced when he saw my face. He knew it had to hurt, and it looked terrible. I smiled, though, and said, "I'm fine, no problem, nothing to see here, sir!" I wanted to be tough.
Kabul was freezing. The wind was bitter when we landed around 4:30 a.m. local time at Bagram Air Base, but that didn't stop hundreds of troops from gathering there to greet their Commander in Chief. Watching the troops, I forgot about my eye for a while. They cheered during the President's speech and many of them participated in the reenlistment ceremony right there and then, pledging another four years of military service to their country. They are such remarkable men and women.
We couldn't linger with them, though. We rushed onto Marine One, which was already on the base and was a safer and faster way to travel than by motorcade, to fly to the President's meetings with President Hamid Karzai. Looking out of the window, I saw and smelled lots of cooking fires across the city, which burned my nose and my eyes. Everything looked gray and still. It was like watching a movie in black and white—there were almost no colors.
After we'd flown awhile, a castle suddenly came into view: the Arg (Turkish for "Citadel"). It was built by a king in 1880 and it's where Afghanistan's rulers—both kings and presidents—have resided since. The bricks were a gray color, crumbling in some parts, and there was a moat all around it (but sadly, no dragon). The outside looked medieval, like a castle you'd see in a storybook, yet the inside had been modernized. There were silk-covered sofas, chandeliers, historical artifacts, and artwork by famous Afghans.
Outside the castle, the tallest man I'd ever seen was actually rolling out the red carpets by himself and hurling them up over the castle walls for decoration. We had given them only a few hours' notice that we were coming because of security, so the residence wasn't ready for a visit from the American President. The man looked like Andre the Giant, and I learned he indeed had gigantism just like Andre. He'd been working at the castle since he was a child. His traditional dress would have reached the ground on anyone else, but he was so tall it came up above his knees. I myself barely came up to his waist.
President Bush asked me to walk with him to greet President Karzai. I'd met Karzai before at the White House, and while I knew to be wary of him and of the accusations of corruption, he was quite charming in person. I remembered something General Colin Powell had told me once when we were watching an event at the White House. "Beware of dictators that speak very good English." That was good advice I never forgot.
Karzai had seen the news about the President's trip to Iraq and the shoe throwing, but he hadn't heard that I'd been hurt. When he saw my face, he gasped and grabbed my hands and asked if they could get me anything.
"Don't worry, Mr. President—you should see the other guy," I said.
Karzai threw back his head and laughed, and President Bush rolled his eyes and patted me on the shoulder.
We spent several hours at the palace and the President met with military commanders, diplomats, and tribal leaders. When the meetings wound down, President Bush asked to see Karzai privately, and I went to find our press pool. I caught up with some of my favorites—three photojournalists I'd worked with for years. They told me about a pact they'd made not to release any photographs of my injury—out of respect for me. That was very kind, and it reflected the good relations my office had with the White House press corps (with only a couple exceptions who shall not be named!).
Of course, when we got back to Washington and I stepped off Marine One, those photographers hadn't agreed to any pact, and the cameras clicked away. By then my black eye looked like a well-earned battle wound, and they got a good look at it before I walked into the West Wing, where the press office staff was gathered to give me hugs and hear all about the trip.
My black eye stayed with me for the last six weeks of the administration, going from black to purple to blue to green to yellow. For many months, my upper cheekbone would ache, especially in the cold. It took a long time to heal.
Other press secretaries have been much more heroic than me, including James S. Brady, who was shot and paralyzed when John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The White House briefing room is named for him. Brady continued a life of public service focusing on proposals for gun control until he died in August 2014.
His injury was real and lasting. I, on the other hand, have the meager distinction of getting the Black Eye of Baghdad. To this day, I'm still the only press secretary that's ever taken a boom mic for the President (and I hope I'm the last), but in a way, it's what all press secretaries do on occasion—take black eyes for the boss. And even on my worst day on the job, the experience of working for the Bush Administration was the very best time of my life.
And the Good News Is…
This book explains the unlikely story of how I became the White House press secretary, the things I witnessed and learned in that job, and how those experiences eventually led me back to what I wanted to do originally—television commentary on politics, policy, and culture.
I was the first and only Republican woman to be the press secretary, and I served during a time of terror threats, two wars, several hard-fought domestic policy debates, mass shootings, Supreme Court nominations, natural disasters, and a major financial crisis. I spoke for the country and the President and was very privileged to do so.
During that time, my goal was to represent America and the President with honor, grace, and dignity. I was cautious in choosing my words and my tone—if I thought President Bush would frown at something I said or how I said it, then I didn't say it. Being prepared, forthcoming, and gracious was important to me. What I said then is a matter of public record, but what I was thinking, feeling, and seeing is what this book is about. These are my personal reflections, the things I remember.
I chose the title And the Good News Is… because I say it all the time. I'm an optimistic person, and I want people to realize that in America, nothing is ever as bad as it seems because we have the opportunity and capabilities to fix problems (though we don't always have the will). Optimism has been my coping mechanism for any adversity. "Shoulders back, chin up, smile—you can handle this" is a voice in my head, and that's helped me deal with all sorts of challenges.
My instinct to find the positive in any situation might be found in my DNA. I grew up with a ranching family in Wyoming, a tough, unpredictable life where you rely on a certain faith that everything is going to be all right. Those instincts attracted me to other optimistic people. As a kid, I remember hearing Ronald Reagan and how his words made me feel safe. When he talked about living on the sunshine side of the mountain, I liked that image—it fit me. I was drawn to his approach to leadership and life.
Years later, my own positive outlook served me well when I started briefing the President. He knew that on some days we'd be dealt a tough hand, and he was less interested in hearing how bad it was than how we were going to play it. Over the years that I worked for him he became much more to me than my boss or even the President of the United States. He became like a second father, a friend, and a confidant.
In this book, I write about the strange twists that led me to the Oval Office. Many people assume I grew up active in Republican politics and that I must have known the Bushes or the Cheneys in order to end up in that job. But I never met any of them until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was born in Wyoming, raised in Colorado, and planned to go into television journalism. Instead, in a theme repeated throughout my life, my tendency to plan out my life was disrupted by chance opportunities and my openness to them. How I got my first press secretary job on Capitol Hill, returned to Washington, and ended up as the co-host of The Five on Fox News were all because I was at the right place at the right time, prepared, and willing to take a risk. That's the same approach I took when I made the most consequential decision of my life—to talk to a guy I was sitting next to on an airplane (he became my husband).
A section of And the Good News Is… reveals stories from the Bush Administration that you've not heard before. These are things that I experienced, my eyewitness accounts and my feelings about them—such as how the President stood up for America when there were no cameras to capture it, shared tender moments with wounded warriors, and made decisions based on principle instead of popularity. I recount stories about things that humbled me and others that still make me laugh. I recall the President teaching me how to pass on taking credit for an accomplishment so that someone else could achieve a goal, conspiring with me to make a point when a young woman reporter was treated unfairly, and helping me get over feelings of bitterness by forgiving a betrayal by a former colleague. As I wrote this, I loved reliving those moments.
I also include my reflections on the importance of civility that I learned from my childhood and then from the Bushes, and how it's being lost in politics and pop culture. I worry about how aggressive and vicious our discourse has become. I don't think all is lost, however. I believe that there are ways that we can get our public debates back on track, because civility and manners are a matter of choice. We don't have to own each other's comments, but we are responsible for whatever we say. In America, we are blessed with the freedom to speak our minds—and we should do so thoughtfully. We also have to recognize that people who disagree with us are not enemies. We're all in this together—and we should act like it.
In addition to those sections, this book is an opportunity to share the best work and life advice that I've used in my own career. Because of the high-profile jobs I've held, I'm often asked what I'd suggest young people do in order to be successful (many would like to be the White House press secretary one day). In particular, I've found that young people and their parents are hungry for this type of advice, and across the country the questions are similar: Should I go to graduate or law school? How do I make the transition from being someone's assistant to a management role? What can I do if my boss is a jerk or asks me to do something that I think is unethical? How do you find the perfect work-life balance?
The problem I've had in responding to these questions is that there's never enough time or resources to reach every person one-on-one, and yet I feel guilty if I don't respond. I believe that anyone who has achieved some success is obligated to help others do the same. I had people guide me along the way, and I've got a lot of pent-up advice to give, so this book helps me address that supply and demand problem. I've added as many of the best tips as I can in three sections that can be applied immediately at work, throughout a career, and during a lifetime. If I were a parent, educator, or employer, I'd want my kids and employees to read this section—advice that will stick with them and help them to be more successful, productive, and content.
I believe that a positive outlook and treating others with respect, dignity, and graciousness lead to professional and personal success. It's a no-lose formula. I also learned that my best-laid Type A personality plans have been disrupted for better things—plans I didn't make, but ones I chose to embrace, no matter how difficult or crazy they seemed to be.
I hope that readers of And the Good News Is… will conclude that it doesn't matter where you come from—whether you went to an Ivy League school or grew up in a city or on a farm, you can end up advising a President in the Oval Office. No one should think they can't make it to the top because they didn't go to Harvard. I hope people will be inspired by stories of my upbringing, my years in the White House, and my transition to television. It wasn't all sunshine—there have been adverse and humbling experiences that have kept me grounded. But I've had the opportunity to travel the world and to realize just how blessed I am to have been born in America with a family that loves me. As a bonus, I am the proud mother of Jasper, America's Dog—he gets his due in Chapter 4.
And so, let the good news begin.…
"Excuse me, ma'am," the Secret Service agent whispered in my ear. "The President needs you at Marine One in ten minutes." No one else in the crowd of fifteen thousand heard him. We were in Norfolk, Virginia, for the commissioning of the USS George H. W. Bush, the latest American aircraft carrier in our military's fleet. I wasn't expecting the summons because I thought we had time to watch the speeches. I was trying to soak up the moment—the January air was cold and dry, but the sun was shining so we could all be outside to celebrate the life accomplishments of President George H. W. Bush, the father of the President I worked for, George W. Bush. I was nostalgic because it was one of the last events we'd attend before he left office. The agent's words snapped me out of it.
I didn't want to raise suspicions by a quick reaction, especially not with the media, so I didn't race for the exit. I nodded to the agent and smiled, trying to look unconcerned. It's a good thing I had big sunglasses on because I was worried. Our intelligence had picked up terrorist chatter that the enemy wanted to disrupt events before the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, and what better place to attack than where the major leaders, public servants, and friends and family of the Bushes were gathered? We had an obligation to be paranoid.
- On Sale
- Apr 21, 2015
- Page Count
- 256 pages