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Curtain Comes Down on Dana Perino's White House Briefings

This post was written by CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

It was standing room only in the White House briefing room today as Press Secretary Dana Perino conducted her final session for reporters.

And by design, there was more laughter than news.

It was her 145th appearance at the lectern – and she began with a slide show poking some good-natured fun at various members of the news media.

"I have a lot of respect for the White House press corps – don't look so surprised," she said, as a picture of a stunned photographer was displayed on the video monitors on either side of her.

Since taking over for the late Tony Snow back in September of '07, Perino has been the second most visible face and voice of the White House – during often turbulent times.

On a daily basis, she faced questions that were by turns pointed, truculent, unfathomable and occasionally mean-spirited. But she rarely let it get the better of her – as she explained and defended the President's policies and actions.

Kidding aside, she had praise for those of us who cover the White House on a daily basis.

"The reporters who show up every morning and are here late at night and work the weekends, that the people that are covering the President out of here, and the presidency, strive so hard to be fair," Perino said.

On a scale of one to ten, she gave the White House Press Corps a nine - in terms of fairness and "working with us and then listening to us."

But does she detect a liberal bias in the news media as a whole?

"I don't think that I would always be asked about my feelings about liberal bias in the media if there wasn't any liberal bias in the media," said Perino. "If it was a moot question, then we wouldn't always have the discussion."

She thinks "America needs more reporters, not fewer." And even as news organizations downsize or go out of business, she told the reporters in her audience "let's hope someone figures out a business model that will keep you in your seats for a long time to come."

"Good, tough reporting takes a lot of money and it takes investment, it takes time, and it takes the willingness from your editors to be willing to go off on assignment and to really hold your elected leaders to account," she said. Perino doesn't think that journalism is dead, but she said "we all have a responsibility to make sure that it survives."

The ball-and-chain that is her job is removed at noon on Tuesday and she can return to a life out of the fast-lane of the 24-hour news cycle.

She and her husband Peter will soon be leaving on six-week trip to South Africa, where they'll serve as volunteers at a site near Cape Town that is receiving American assistance in treating people with HIV/AIDS.

It's a reflection of her personal commitment to PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which the Administration says has brought life-saving treatment to over two million people worldwide and cares for 10-million more.

"I say those statistics a lot to make the case for why that program is so good," said Perino, "but I want to go and experience it personally, firsthand, and to see how American taxpayer dollars are being put to good use, and hopefully come back and be able to tell you guys about it."

As for her successor in the White House of Barack Obama, she wishes Robert Gibbs the best and says "he won't miss a beat when he gets up here (on the podium)." And she urged reporters: "Please go easy on him -- for a week."

She made it clear that her days as a presidential press secretary will be over for good.

"Would I ever come back and do this? No!" she said, raising her voice for added emphasis.

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