Petite Perino fills ailing Snow’s big shoes

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Online exclusive | 12:14 p.m.

One veteran reporter describes 5-foot-1-inch Dana Perino as “a tiny little thing,” but the deputy White House press secretary brings to her job a big reputation for brains and the Wild West toughness of her native Wyoming.

Witness her recent exchange with Helen Thomas, who has covered every presidency since she followed the Kennedy campaign to Washington. When Miss Thomas, 86, kept firing questions at Mrs. Perino, 34, the presidential spokeswoman cut her off.

“Do you want me to answer the question, Helen, or do you want to ask questions? It’s really hard to concentrate here. What’s your question?” Mrs. Perino demanded.

Miss Thomas replied, “You repeat yourself so much that. …”

“So do you,” Mrs. Perino interrupted, then immediately called on another reporter.

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Mrs. Perino is “the first press secretary to cut Helen Thomas no slack,” said Ann Compton of ABC News, who has spent more than three decades as a White House correspondent.

“The microphone has not overpowered [Mrs. Perino], even though she is a little tiny thing who needs to stand on a box just to see over the edge of the lectern,” Mrs. Compton said.

Mrs. Perino said in an interview that she felt bad about the exchange.

“I really like Helen,” Mrs. Perino said. She said Miss Thomas gave her a “big hug” after the March 27 gaggle when she announced that White House spokesman Tony Snow’s cancer had returned.

“I feel like I have good relationships with people in the briefing room. I understand that reporters have a job to do, and I understand that they’re going to ask really tough questions. And sometimes, especially when the camera’s on, there’s a little bit of drama and theatrics,” Mrs. Perino said. “But at the end of the day, I feel like if I can provide the answers that they want in a tone that is reasonable and not aggressive, that is the style I try to bring to the briefing room.”

Mrs. Perino has stepped quickly and ably into the loquacious Mr. Snow’s shoes, White House reporters say.

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