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Dana Perino on Covering Trump, Social Media and the Post-Ailes Environment at Fox News

As press secretary for President George W. Bush, Dana Perino used to deliver the daily briefings from the White House. Now, as an anchor on Fox News, her job is to help viewers interpret the tidal wave of headlines coming out of the Trump administration and Washington, D.C.

Perino has been with Fox News since 2009, not long after she left the White House, but her profile has climbed significantly in the nearly 12 months since she took over the weekday 2 p.m. slot for the news-driven “Daily Briefing with Dana Perino.” She also serves as one of the five panelists on Fox News’ roundtable discussion series “The Five,” a role she’s held since the 5 p.m. show’s inception in 2011.

As the top-rated cabler continues to rebuild after the scandal-driven shakeups of 2016 and 2017, Perino has emerged as a rising star. Juggling the two daily shows along with the weekly podcast “I’ll Tell You What” is taxing but rewarding, she says.

“One of the challenges of doing both shows is to find a way to make interesting comments at 5 that don’t jeopardize my ability to be objective on the 2 o’clock show,” Perino tells Variety. She has “tapped the brakes” on her use of social media as a commentary vehicle now that she is delivering news and analysis every afternoon.

“I follow a lot of social media conversation but I don’t instigate it,” she says. “I think a lot of (news anchors) are doing that now. In order to do your job you have to think clearly. There a lot of people who are concerned that if they’re not active on social media their ratings will go down. But we’re also seeing that people can ruin their career in an instant on social media. So it’s easy to figure out the cost-benefit analysis there.”

“Daily Briefing” ranked among cable’s top 20 news programs for the month of July with an average of 1.4 million viewers, putting the show ahead of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper, which air in more highly trafficked time slots. “The Five” remains a workhorse for Fox News, ranking No. 5 for July in viewers (with an average of 2.2 million) behind Fox’s Sean Hannity (3.4 million) and Tucker Carlson (2.7 million), MSBNC’s Rachel Maddow (2.7 million) and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham (2.6 million).

Perino’s time in Washington gives her instinctive insights into the D.C. culture that has been so roiled by the arrival of Trump and his brand of conservatism. Amid scrutiny of the tensions between the U.S. and Russia, Perino can easily drop into conversation on “The Five” or “Daily Briefing” her memory of the time when Russian President Vladimir Putin made a point of telling President Bush that his dog was “bigger, stronger, and faster” than Barney, Bush’s beloved Scottish terrier.

“I definitely use my White House experience in everything I do every day,” Perino said. “I’m not alone in feeling like we’re all drinking from a fire hose” with the Trump-era accelerated news cycle, she added.

As much as she enjoyed her time in the center of the political universe, she is gratified to have found her way to a high-profile perch in the profession she originally planned to pursue after graduating from the University of Colorado at Pueblo with a communications degree. She started out pursuing anchor jobs in local TV but wound up in Washington working for Daniel Schaefer, a congressman from Colorado.

From there Perino moved up the ranks as a communications executive. She worked for the Justice Department before moving to Bush’s White House, first as deputy press secretary under Ari Fleischer and then as press secretary for Bush’s final 18 months in office.

“When I look back on my career I feel like I’ve been lucky to have been at the right place at the right time to have great opportunities,” she says. “This does feel like that again.”

Perino’s rise to prominence at Fox News coincided with the major upheaval in management and on-air after sexual harassment scandals forced the ouster of Fox News chairman-CEO Roger Ailes and longtime star anchor Bill O’Reilly. Perino announced O’Reilly’s hasty exit to Fox News viewers on April 19, 2017, when she was subbing for him on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

“I remember during the commercial break thinking ‘How did I end up in this position,’ ” she recalls. “It was a shocking moment.”

But her personal experience at Fox News has been nothing but professional, she emphasizes, noting that she came in at a high level given her White House credentials. “My heart hurts for anybody who had to go through (harassment),” she says.

After a long period of turmoil and management turnover, the mood inside the company is much improved this year, she adds.

“The company feels like it’s in a good place right now,” she says. “I have young people coming to me constantly for mentoring advice. Initially, the question was ‘How do I leave?’ Now it’s ‘How do I get ahead here?’ ”

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