- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

One veteran reporter describes 5-foot-1-inch Dana Perino as “a little tiny 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 Mrs. 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.

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

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

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.

Mrs. Perino has stepped into the press secretary’s job while Tony Snow undergoes treatment for cancer.

“The microphone has not overpowered , 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 Mrs. Thomas gave her a “big hug” after the March 27 gaggle when she announced that Mr. 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.

“She is smart, articulate and knowledgeable about administration policy. She is not as glib and fast with a one-liner as Tony Snow but she does a very capable job filling in,” said CBS radio correspondent Mark Knowler, who has covered the White House since 1976.

Mr. Knowler called Mr. Snow “one of the best White House spokesmen I’ve ever encountered.”

Mr. Snow’s colon cancer from 2005 was found to have returned and spread to his liver, and he has not made any announcements about whether or when he might return.

However, Mrs. Perino said Mr. Snow will be able to work while he undergoes cancer treatment and will be back “sooner than people think.” In the meantime, the woman who came from “an Italian family in the Black Hills of Wyoming” is speaking for an embattled President Bush.

“We all certainly hope Tony is back sooner than later, but I think the position is in good hands while he is out,” said former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who hired Mrs. Perino away from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in 2005.

Mrs. Perino, who will turn 35 on May 9, worked on environmental issues for the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005, first at the Department of Justice and then at CEQ.

“She’s more than someone who can just talk well. She brings a lot of intelligence to the issues,” said CEQ Chairman Jim Connaughton.

Tom Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for environmental issues, said Mrs. Perino is “bright and skillful.”

Mr. Sansonetti, now a private-practice lawyer for Holland & Hart in Cheyenne, Wyo., credited Mrs. Perino with drawing press coverage for the Justice Department’s environmental cases in a post-September 11 era when most attention was paid to counterterrorism efforts.

Mrs. Perino’s work on environmental issues is a passion, fueled by her upbringing in Evanston, Wyo. Growing up, she often helped her grandfather with his annual cattle drive in Newcastle.

“I’m a strong environmentalist,” said Mrs. Perino, who called the White House’s approach to climate change “a model for the world.”

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