'Sunday is a time to be decent': As dark storm clouds hang over election, Fox News is trying for a bright spot

Dana perino chris stirewaltFox NewsDana Perino and Chris Stirewalt.

Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt only have a television show for eight weeks. But unlike other television personalities whose shows are being canceled, the hosts don’t appear too unhappy about it.

Less than 30 minutes before a recent taping of “I’ll Tell You What,” the generally bustling halls at Fox News’ midtown Manhattan studios were relatively quiet aside from the two hosts, who held court in the green room with the show’s guests, cracking jokes and in between a discussion of the potential post-2016 presidential election political dynamics.

Before leaving the green room to prepare on set, Stirewalt turned to this reporter, smiling: “Are you prepared for excellence?”

Amid one of the nastiest and darkest presidential elections in modern history, Fox News took a rerun of its media talk show off the air and gave the green light earlier this year to yet another political roundtable discussion program that aims to break down the 2016 presidential election.

Stirewalt, Fox News’ digital political director, and Perino, a host on Fox’s “The Five,” debuted their Sunday evening political roundtable show “I’ll Tell You What” in mid-September with less than eight weeks to go before the general election.

But while some of their colleagues grab headlines for segments aimed at igniting combative debate, the two hosts have aimed to make their short-run show a lighter affair where the news of the day isn’t the cause for a shouting match or a blow-up.

Perino and Stirewalt share a desire for civility on Sunday night programming, speaking wistfully of a time before high-volume cable political talk show when Perino’s family watched CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday evenings.

“This is a bad election, nobody likes this election. But America is not it’s politicians. America is Americans,” Stirewalt told Business Insider, adding, “Sunday is a time to be decent.”

“For me Sunday is not the time for score settling, it is not the time for talking points, it is not the time for that stuff,” he added. “I feel like Sunday evening, if you’re giving us the privilege of being in your home, we should respect that by saying we’re going to have a civil discourse.”

Perino said the civility rule motivated the two hosts to place an informal ban on any current campaign operatives from coming on the show.

“Then there’s no yelling,” Perino said of the decision. “There’s a time and a place for the knock-down drag-out fights on cable news. And it’s exciting and people like to watch it. But if I’m going to spend my weekends working, I want to do it with someone I enjoy working with, and with people I admire.”

Despite their attempt to host a civil show, the negativity of the 2016 election and the turmoil within the conservative media sphere has occasionally made the two hosts targets.

Stirewalt lamented the online Twitter pundits attempting to make arguments based on campaign polling statistics, a subject he has been obsessing over since the beginning of his career decades ago.

“One of the advantages and disadvantages of the decentralization of information is that everybody’s a pundit now,” Stirewalt said. “People didn’t do horserace stuff. I was the weirdo because I did horserace stuff because I read the ‘Almanac of American Politics’ and I read the crosstabs and that was considered ‘off.'”

“But now everybody is a horse race pundit, and everyone is telling you about the crosstabs. And everybody’s telling you about the numbers, and everyone is saying ‘Oh, that’s skewed.'”

Perino’s also felt the pressure of social media blowback. The former White House official took heat from many Trump supporters because of her refusal to put a Republican-friendly spin on polls that show Trump losing.

The Fox host assured Business Insider that she enjoys social media immensely — she’s prolific across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — but said that this election in particular has been “hard to take sometimes.”

“I was looking at my mentions on Twitter. And it was Stirewalt who said ‘No one looks at their mentions. Stop looking at your mentions,'” Perino recalled.

She added: “I have felt under the gun, or that I should be in the fetal position under my desk…And I have a new appreciation for what parents of young teens are going through. Because if I as an adult can feel like I’m in a funk for 48 hours because of social media, what must they go through?”

Still, Perino and Stirewalt seem to being enjoying being at the helm of their of show while it lasts, booking panelists they don’t often see on TV and using their on and off screen time to joke and catch up.

“Some of our best moments are in the green room before hand,” Perino told Business Insider. “We bring together people who wouldn’t necessarily have met, but maybe have heard about each other or read each other’s work, and there’s a respect for the intellectual integrity that each person is bringing.”

She added: “If I’m going to spend my weekends working, I want to do it with someone I enjoy working with, and with people I admire. I’ve learned so much tonight. And every Sunday I feel energised, saying ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.'”

“I’ll Tell You What” and the podcast that inspired the show represents another logical transition for Perino personally from political operative to analyst and television anchor a la ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Unlike the other voices on “The Five,” a snarky Fox roundtable panel show, Perino has experience working in politics, having served as George W. Bush’s press secretary for the last year of his presidency. Since joining the network in 2009, she’s undergone a career transition from party advocate to more removed analyst — she hasn’t, for example, endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The somewhat laid-back quality of “I’ll Tell You What” behind-the-scenes belies the strange burden it carries. “I’ll Tell You What” was the first new show approved and aired following former CEO Roger Ailes’ departure amid allegations he sexually harassed employees including former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson.

Perino dismissed the notion that the show represents any major changes in post-Ailes Fox News, but speculated that there was more room for experimentation under acting CEO Rupert Murdoch’s leadership.

“He said ‘Let’s try some things’ and allowed for some flexibility, and some experimentation that I don’t know if that would have existed,” Perino said of Murdoch. “I don’t know if Roger Ailes even knew we had a podcast. But I wouldn’t have told him, because why would I have told him?”

Indeed, the host said that she feels the network has perhaps turned a corner in the last several weeks of the election.

“It feels like we’re on the cusp of something,” Perino said. “And I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but the fact that we’ve had to — in the middle of this transition in July when all this happened — we have to put a product on TV every minute of every day, and we have not skipped a beat on that, and we’ve had to start this thing, and we are laughing, and we had this great debate with Chris Wallace, so it feels like brand-wise things are solid.”

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