Fox News is going through some big changes right now. Here's one more: For the first time in its 20-year-long history, the top-rated cable channel is turning a podcast into a television show. "I'll Tell You What," hosted by Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt, is expanding from iTunes to the TV screen, starting Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern time.
The weekly program is temporary — airing only through the weekend after Election Day — but is nevertheless significant. It represents Fox News's first new programming initiative since longtime network chairman Roger Ailes resigned in July.
Is the show a sign of things to come under new management? Perino, who was White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, discussed that question and a week of health records and birtherism with The Fix. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: Donald Trump's campaign issued a statement [Thursday] saying he believes the president was born in the United States, but a lot of journalists felt like that's not quite the same as the candidate saying it in his own words [which he did Friday]. How do you view that? When you were the White House press secretary, you spoke for the president, but when you were up at the podium, did you feel like that was the same as if President Bush himself was speaking?
PERINO: Well, I certainly believed I was speaking on his behalf. But I also recognized that the media would take something more directly from him at any time. The media always wants to talk to the principal. I found it curious that the Trump campaign — which has had a pretty good three weeks, as Hillary Clinton's numbers have come down and his numbers have gone up in certain significant battleground states and even nationally — would waste an entire news cycle to bring up birtherism again. It's mystifying to me why they would think that would be beneficial to their campaign at that point.
THE FIX: Another big story this week was the release of additional health information on both candidates. How would you appraise the way the campaigns handled those releases?
PERINO: I'm not there, so I can't say how the communication between the spokespeople and the candidates went. In my experience, big decisions on communications always come from the top. I understand the instinct to be protective of private information, and health, in most cases, is private. This case is a little bit different. If I had been there with Hillary Clinton and I was her spokesperson, I would have tried to make the case that releasing the pneumonia diagnoses on that Friday would have been the better thing to do, that it would have been factual. I think people would have been able to understand that, of course, it is possible to have a bacterial infection that turns into pneumonia. That happens to a lot of people, and if the doctor says you're going to be okay, they could have avoided all of that news — maybe not all of it, but most of it — had they been forthcoming on that Friday.
THE FIX: And I suspect her pushback would have been, "But Dana, there are all these conspiracy theorists who think I'm dying. If we put out the pneumonia diagnosis, we'll just feed them."
PERINO: Well, the other thing that's a challenge is the Clinton campaign had made fun of anybody who suggested that she had a health problem. However, I think by the end of the week, when she released that health information from her doctor — look, 48 hours ago, everybody was talking about her health records, and now that's largely been put to bed.
THE FIX: Your new show is the first to debut since the domino effect of the last couple of months, with Roger Ailes leaving and then Greta Van Susteren. Does it feel like a time of change over there?
PERINO: I feel very positive about everything. A lot of the management changes didn't effect me personally. I think what is encouraging and exciting is the ability to have maximum flexibility and turn a podcast into a TV show in about 10 days. In my view, that shows a willingness to let a thousand flowers bloom.
THE FIX: Was Roger Ailes a podcast guy? He got a lot of credit over the years for being innovative, but he's obviously an older fellow, and this is a new idea. I've heard of podcasts becoming on-air radio programs, but this is a first for Fox, turning a podcast into a TV show. Is this the kind of thing that would have happened on his watch anyway, or should we view it as a signal of some new things we might see under new management?
PERINO: I don't know. I never spoke to Roger about the podcast; I don't know if he was even aware of it. We just kind of experimented because some younger people at Fox News Radio had the idea to do the podcast. I do think there was some eagerness to have new programming, and because the podcast already had some popularity, I think it was pretty natural to turn it into a TV show.
THE FIX: But who said put it on TV? Was it [co-president] Bill Shine saying, "Hey, Dana, I really like your podcast. Why don't you and Chris put it on TV?"
PERINO: Well, I wasn't there for the meetings where the executives talked about it, but certainly [executive vice president for programming] Suzanne Scott and [executive vice president for news and editorial] Jay Wallace had the ability to just say, "We want to turn this podcast into a TV show." And it got the green light pretty quickly. This has all happened within two weeks. I think that shows an ability to be very agile and a willingness to experiment. We know it's a temporary thing — it's eight weeks — so we're going to try to do our best for the run that we have.