With a fading black eye gracing the right side of her face, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino on Thursday offered advice for her successor as well as general critiques of the press pool she deals with daily.
Asked to rate the fairness of the White House press corps on a scale of one to ten -- with one being utterly awful and ten being completely honest brokers -- George W. Bush's current spox offered the following grade:
"The White House press corps, the ones who sit in the room I would give an eight," she said. "It is outside of the briefing room and the numerous opinion bloviators that are not fair at all. I would give them a zero."
Later, Perino, who suffered a slight facial injury during the recent shoe-throwing incident with President Bush in Iraq, took the media to task for its sometimes incessant focus on triviality, often at the expense of more important topics.
When the president travels, she said, "I have hardly ever seen an American journalist ask a question relevant to the topic of the meeting... Usually it is some trivial issue... Here you are in Tanzania and you can't possibly think of something to ask about Africa?"
All told, however, this was as harsh as Perino would get about the press. Joined by former press secretaries Mike McCurry (Bill Clinton) and Ron Nessen (Gerald Ford) for a Brookings Institute event on White House media relations, she mostly talked with respect for the fourth estate.
Each panelist stressed -- to the point where the moderator asked for less guarded answers -- the need to be truthful at all times with those reporters tasked with covering the president. Credibility was your lifeline, they said. Without it, you were out of a job. As such, the three offered advice for incoming spokesman Robert Gibbs: never mislead, said Nessen, have a thick skin, get your information from first hand sources and be prepared never to see your family.
At one point, both McCurry and Perino were pressed to explain how they handled instances in which their first word ended up being less than honest; with McCurry, the Monica Lewinsky saga and with Perino, the Bush administration's use of torture as a counter-terrorism tool. The former Clinton hand acknowledged experiencing guilt both personally and within the White House after it became clear that the president had lied about the affair. Though he stressed that no one -- at least in the communications shop -- knew the indiscretions were true until many months after the story broke. Perino, for her part, insisted that no lie had ever been uttered from the briefing room lectern and said history would prove this true.
There was, in addition, one move that McCurry said he wish he could undo: his decision to let press secretary briefings be broadcast on live television.
"I should have implemented the rule that exists at the State Department, which is the briefing is not a live news event.," he said. "What the purpose of this briefing is to illuminate and provide additional help to people who are trying to cover the president. The president is not in the room... That is the sausage being made, you don't need to put that and blast it on live television."
"Unfortunately," Perino chimed in, disabusing the notion that somehow TV could be restricted at the briefings, "I think the horse is out of the barn on that."