Anecdotes about Putin, Olmert and the shoe-throwing incident
As only the second woman to serve as a U.S. president’s press secretary, Dana Perino has plenty of inside-Washington stories. Not that she’s telling all of them in her new memoir, And the Good News Is… Lessons and Advice From the Bright Side. It’s a friendly book, careful to stay loyal to George W. Bush and to show what a good boss he was behind the scenes. But the anecdotes she does share paint her own unique view of the former commander-in-chief.
1. Perino was injured in the kerfuffle after someone threw a shoe at Bush in Baghdad; he thought she was just crying on his behalf.
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 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.
2. Bush stuck up for then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with gusto during 2008 peace talks. At a dinner at Olmert’s residence, where several Israelis were apparently against a deal, Bush stood up to make an announcement:
“[I]f there’s anyone sitting at this table that is waiting in the tall grass with plans to attack this good man”—pointing at Olmert—”as soon as he makes a tough decision, please tell me now. Because I am President of the United States of America, and I will not waste my country’s capital on you if you aren’t serious.”
He then asked the Israeli cabinet members to talk about their backgrounds and what brought their families to Israel. When they were done, Perino says, “they kept saying that they’d never known this or that about one another.” Bush concluded, “I had a feeling you all may have forgotten why you were here in the first place. Thank you for having us. Good night.”
On the plane the next day, Perino brought up the exchange and Bush said, “Pretty cool, huh?”
3. Bush tried to prevent Putin from embarrassing himself by stating that he thought Bush had fired Dan Rather from CBS, which revealed how little the Russian leader understood about American media.
“Why would I answer any questions about press freedoms in my country, when you just fired that newsman,” Putin said.
“Excuse me?” Bush asked.
“You know, you fired that newsman.”
The President looked puzzled but then he realized what was going on. He said, “Vladimir, are you talking about Dan Rather?”
“Yes, the man you fired.”
“No, Vladimir, that’s not how it works. A private company employed Dan Rather, and they made the decision to let him go. I had nothing to do with it… I’m telling you as your friend, don’t go out there and say that. It isn’t correct.”
Putin said it anyway.
4. Bush was hurt about not being included the 2008 Republican convention. As Perino explains it, they sensed that the McCain-Palin campaign “was stalling to make a decision until it was too late for us to leave in time.” Bush stayed at the White House to give a statement on Hurricane Gustav.
At the end of it, the President noticed the monitor showing the live shot of the convention floor.
He quietly asked, “Do you think they know they’re insulting me?”
I waited a beat, looking at the screen with him.
“Yes, sir. I believe they do.”
5. Bush had his own moment advocating for female journalists at briefings. In a 2006 press conference, ABC reporter Jessica Yellin was supposed to be allowed to ask a question, but ABC swapped in a man, Jake Tapper, at the last minute. Perino was indignant that the opportunity had been taken away from Yellin, and said so to the president.
“Well, do we have to call on him?” the President asked, raising his eyebrows.
Catching his drift, I said, “No, sir, I don’t think you do.”
Tapper was “furious,” but Perino hopes he understands.
And the Good News Is… hits shelves this week.
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