Fox News host Dana Perino took a look around a chaotic New York City in mid-March and, like a lot of people, headed for her beach house at the Jersey Shore.
“When the city was starting to lock down, and Fox gave us the option of where we wanted to be, we wrestled with it for just a little bit,” said Perino in a recent telephone interview.
“I thought it wouldn’t be that long," she said (certainly she didn’t anticipate celebrating her 48th birthday on May 9 still hosting live every day from Bay Head). "I started reading about Spain and Italy, and the difficulty of people even leaving their homes to take a walk.”
And so Perino has been hosting two daily shows, The Daily Briefing at 2 p.m. and The Five at 5 p.m. (where she is a one-fifth cohost), plus a children’s story time in between at 3:30 p.m., all from the spare bedroom in the Ocean County Shore house where she spends most weekends anyway, her 8-year-old Vizsla, Jasper, lurking nearby.
You know the kind of room she’s appropriated for a Fox News remote studio; it’s in every Shore house, with crisp beachy blue-and-green striped linens and twin beds against the wall — in fact, you’ve probably stayed in one. Just without the signature semi-abstracted White House backdrop.
For a regular Shore visitor like Perino, the unscheduled extended stay in the beach house has only deepened her appreciation for the charms and soothing qualities of a place like Bay Head, where she has owned a house near Twilight Lake with husband Peter McMahon.
“What I found in Bay Head for me is the small-town feel of the way I grew up in Wyoming and Colorado,” said Perino, who served as press secretary under President George W. Bush. “I grew up in very rural areas. I do love it here. I have a great affection for this community."
Bay Head, located at the end of a NJ Transit train line from up north, is known for its ferocious fight against former Gov. Chris Christie’s effort to build sand dunes. Although the town is a bit north of traditionally Philly-centered Shore areas, Perino says some of its oldest families are from Philly, from which trains also used to arrive in Bay Head.
She says she and her husband routinely watch the train comings and goings from their porch: the giddy arrivers, the dejected departers. The sound of the train now makes an occasional cameo appearance on her segments, (cohost Greg Gutfeld was sure he could recognize that particular sound of a New Jersey train) but otherwise, you cannot tell she’s at the Shore.
Except possibly for the reinvigorated outlook of someone hugging close to salt air and more room, and the clarity of mind that comes with a break from her regular routine of 15-hour days plus a busy schedule of nighttime obligations, she notes. (For now, it’s just the 15-hour days.)
“I do appreciate the fresh air, especially the light,” Perino said. “The sunrise and the sunset and the colors of the sky are healing. I like to be up early so I can witness the morning light every day.”
She’s tried to give back: She stocked shelves at Burkes, the local Bay Head market, in a coronavirus challenge, and took dinner to the ICU Emergency Room nurses at Hackensack University Medical Center Jersey Shore. She says she makes a practice of curating and lending books to locals from her extensive collection — mysteries, biographies, and the like. She’s scheduled the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach on her show to talk about how to safely reopen the beach.
She and McMahon get Italian takeout regularly from the Cole House Bistro in Point Pleasant Beach, and birthday cakes from Mueller’s (not that Mueller), the bakery on Bridge Avenue.
“I have had a few people who know we’re here and watch the show,” she said. “I’ve had people drop off chocolate chip cookies. One longtime resident here left a loaf of bread."
She’s a Fox News loyalist. She says Fox has maintained a uniform and professional look for its remote hosts with their backdrops and avoided the more, say, casual look of other networks. (Though surely a Twilight Lake backdrop would be hard to beat).
And she defends her coverage of the coronavirus against criticism that Fox hosts, particularly on The Five, downplayed the severity of the threat early on.
She says her coverage has been informed by an experience in 2005, as deputy press secretary, with a simulation exercise for a pandemic, and by the general ethos to be prepared for history to repeat itself. “We went through this exercise for three days,” she said.
“I’m very confident that The Five was talking about coronavirus early," she said. “I can only speak for myself. I’m very confident my words have been responsible.”
(After Perino fielded the question about criticism of Fox coverage overall, the Fox News PR department sent over 11 examples of other media downplaying instances, including pieces from the Washington Post on Feb. 1 — ”Get a grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now" — the New York Times on Feb. 5 — “Who Says It’s Not Safe to Travel to China”— and CNN).
Perino says she doesn’t have an opinion about how and when to reopen Jersey Shore beaches and towns, or the rest of America for that matter. Bay Head’s beaches are currently closed, leaving East Avenue, the main drag, as the focal point for pedestrians.
“I don’t try to second-guess the leadership,” Perino said. “I respect how difficult their decisions are. They don’t want to shut them either. I’m sure they would like to open, too.”
And while Bay Head Mayor Bill Curtis told N.J. Monthly recently, “I don’t understand what people don’t understand. Stay at home," Perino says she hasn’t felt any cold shoulder from the locals she’s come to know and feel close to (the second-grade teacher who is also a beach-tag checker, the neighbor who makes them all amazing dinners) about riding out the pandemic like so many other second-home owners.
(Around Bay Head, they’re called Bennies. “What is a shoobie? I never heard of that,” Perino says, perhaps establishing once and for all where in New Jersey the term switches.)
Besides, like a lot of second-home owners, she identifies as a (mostly) local. Especially these days.