On Wednesday night, Jon Stewart had former White House press secretary Dana Perino and current Fox "News" co-host Dana Perrno on as a guest. I thought about watching -- I figured that Stewart would have a could time undercutting her, and Perino was always a reasonably personable press secretary, but I have a hard time watching her these days, so I passed.
I did read of some good exchanges for the appearance, though. My favorite was when Stewart began to take off on one of her co-hosts, Eric Bolling, and Ms. Perino came somewhat to his defense with a "heart-tugging" reply designed to get him to back off.
She quickly replied that Bolling had a dog named Freedom "after the Freedom Towers, ok, so watch the jokes."
That got an eye roll from Stewart, which immediately answered. “My dog’s named Holocaust. I’m just saying, you want to have a dog tragedy-off, well, I think I’ve got that covered.”
Much as I initially had found Dana Perino reasonably benign when it came to those defending the Bush Administration, it was a comment she made when appearing in 2007 as a guest on the wonderful NPR radio game show Wait, Wait..Don't Tell Me that broke the umbilical cord and got me from caring about most anything the then-White House press secretary had to say, no matter how charming she appears to be. Though happily some remember, I think it's tended to be forgotten by far too many, if not most.
Attempting to tell a whimsical charming story at her expense, it had people gob-smack shocked at the time. As the Washington Post reported:
"I was panicked a bit because I really don't know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis," said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."
So she consulted her best source. "I came home and I asked my husband," she recalled. "I said, 'Wasn't that like the Bay of Pigs thing?' And he said, 'Oh, Dana.' "
"Oh, Dana" is perhaps the politest thing that could be said about this.
And it's not something that I read about long after the fact, or just days after. I was listening to the program as it happened. And my capacity to listen to Dana Perino and take anything she said seriously stopped at that moment.
That the Cuban Missile Crisis happened before she was born (just 10 years, though), it's not like it's ancient history. And there had been TWO movies about it -- one, starring Kevin Costner in 2000 (when she was a very much alive 28), called Thirteen Days. And the other made for television in 1974 (though she was only 2. NOTE: this is a correction from the original draft when I was juggling dates incorrectly), The Missiles of October, that starred William Devane and Ralph Bellamy. That's how renowned the event was. Again, it's had two movies made about it -- within the then-45 years of it happening.
But more than that, life is full of events that occurred before we were born that we all know about, and not knowing is no excuse. World War II happened before Dana Perino was born, presumably she'd heard about that.
But mostly, there is one other thing that was utterly, painfully galling.
I don't think everyone has to know about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think most people, especially Americans, should know -- it was that important to world history - but they don't have to. But...if you're going into government service in Washington, D.C., I think it's critical that you do know. AND if you're going to be the freaking White House press secretary -- speaking on behalf of the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief, the most power man in the world -- I believe that it is essential that you must know what the Cuban Missile Crisis is. Almost Job #1. The Cuban Missile Crisis is one of the most serious, dangerous, important events to have happened in the United States, let alone the world in the past 60 years -- when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war (!!) -- and it stood at the center of the White House. And the way the White House and its then-press secretary Pierre Salinger handled it in addressing the concerns of the world is the textbook case for every future White House press secretary. And for any White House Press Secretary to not have a clue what it was -- at any time, but just a mere 45 years after it happened -- isn't just pathetic, shameful and horrific, it's unacceptable in every pure sense of the word.
And she told it as a cute, adorable story about herself.
I didn't expect her to be fired the next day -- or ever, for that matter. It was the Bush White House, after all. People didn't get fired for transgressions, they were given the Medal of Freedom. But she should have been. The White House is no place for having a spokesperson who doesn't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was.
I don't remotely think Dana Perino is stupid. What I think is that she is far less bright and inquisitive than the position of White House press secretary demands.
And from that point on, I've just had a near-impossible time giving a scintilla of credibility to almost anything that has come out of her mouth since that point. And when she has been positioned today as a supposed expert because of her days at the White House, it makes my corpuscles curdle.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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