There are two reasons conservatives should be excited about The Lead with Jake Tapper, which premieres Monday on CNN at 4 pm ET. The primary reason, of course, is Tapper himself--who in my opinion is one of America's ideal reporters: Smart, tenacious, objective, and ethical. That's an extremely rare combination these days. A few hundred more Tappers and I'd be out of a job.
The other reason is that from the looks of it, Tapper has no intention of being a Narrative Slave. In an interview with TV Guide, Tapper describes The Lead as a program that will not be rehashing what the rest of the media's Narrative Slaves have already been regurgitating throughout the day. Instead, Tapper says, the idea is to "plant a flag" about what the next day's news should be:
Tapper: At 4 is when the people who make news get serious about what they're going to put on in the evening news or the next day's newspapers. It's a time for discretion and judgment. We can put a flag in the ground and say, "this is important." We'll have distinct blocks of the show that represent different categories of the lead. A politics lead, a national lead, world lead, a business lead - the stock market will have just closed - a pop culture lead and sports lead. For contributors, we'll have a stable of familiar faces for different topics. We want to have one interview a show and one roundtable.
Tapper elaborated more with the Baltimore Sun''s David Zurawik:
Tapper's new-media credentials are strong and continue to evolve through social media. Lest anyone think he's voicing an old-school vision, he adds, "That's just the spirit for it — we're not using the newspaper front page as an actual template, because so many people actually get their news from [a] newspaper's website. That's the truth."
Working off the show's title, Tapper says, "There will be a world lead. There will be a national lead. There'll be a politics lead. There'll be a business lead. We'll make it very clear what stories we think are important. There will be a pop lead, and there will be a sports lead. I don't want the show to be ideological."
Tapper's also tapping into his audience for ideas.
Last week, via Twitter, he reached out to his nearly 257,000 followers asking for ideas about what they would like to see covered -- stories ranging from politics to sports to popular culture. (The Lead also has its own Twitter handle.) Curious about this, I asked CNN's new anchor where this is leading.
"Interacting with viewers on twitter and Facebook isn't new for me," Tapper replied via email. "But it will be a big part of my show--both in terms of feedback and story ideas." He added, "We're also planning a way for viewers to demonstrate their wit with hashtag games--more on that Monday!"
The Lead is a big deal for CNN, a cable news network and international brand that remains highly profitable while getting crushed in the ratings by Fox News and MSNBC. This is the first show launched under newly installed chief Jeff Zucker, and it's hosted by his most high-profile hire, Tapper, who had previously been the Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News.
Though CNN has already instituted some changes in its programming, including a welcome break from DC-centered politics, The Lead will likely represent the best indicator yet of which direction Zucker is headed.
On paper The Lead sounds great--exactly what a network struggling for an identity needs. And I can't think of anything the mainstream media as a whole needs more than Narrative competition. Currently, everyone in media (TV, online, print) covers the exact same stories with the exact same point-of-view. There's no competition because it's all coordinated (unless you want to believe it's coincidence) into a group-think collective.
You would think a competitive media would want to, you know, compete.
This is why Drudge is such a success. We don't click on Drudge 200 times a day hoping for links to what everyone else is covering. We click on Drudge to find out what Drudge found that the rest of the media ignores--buried ledes and important stories inconvenient to the media's provincial liberal worldview.
So bring on The Lead, a place where the news media might think for itself.
What a concept.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC