Since exiting ABC News to move over to CNN, Jake Tapper has been seen only sporadically at his new home, offering analysis on big stories, usually involving the White House. As chief Washington correspondent, Tapper will be part of the CNN team covering President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight. Next month he’ll permanently anchor his own show, “The Lead,” during the 4pm weekday hour.
This is good news to those of us who are grateful for Tapper’s intelligent, informed, and objective approach to a profession woefully lacking in those qualities — especially objectivity. Though we don’t yet know what to expect from “The Lead,” Tapper’s first CNN special, “An American Hero: The Uncommon Valor of Clint Romesha,” made a superb first impression.
In a moving ceremony yesterday, President Obama awarded our country’s highest honor for courage, the Medal of Honor, to retired Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha. And in his hour-long special (which aired over the weekend) Tapper takes us back to October 3, 2009, and the dawn-to-dusk battle at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan. It was on this day and at this place that Romesha’s jaw-dropping heroism would earn him a place in the elite club of American Medal of Honor winners.
For whatever reason, in 2006, the Army dropped Outpost Keating in the worst possible strategic spot — in a valley surrounded by three steep mountains. Over the next three years, the Taliban would regularly test the camp’s defenses all in preparation for a major assault. The fifty-plus Americans stationed there immediately knew the inevitable and prepared and trained the best they could. When that time came, though, the men were outnumbered 4-to-1.
Eight Americans died, 20 were wounded, and while there were many examples of American valor and heroism, Romesha’s actions — which probably saved the camp and the lives of everyone there — would never be believed in a piece of fiction. That he violated a direct order from a superior only adds to the legend.
Throughout the hour, Tapper interviews Romesha and lets him tell his story. And it’s in these moments we discover that Romesha the man is every bit as impressive as Romesha the Medal of Honor winner. No false humility, no bravado, just a soldier doing his job and dedicated to his brothers and his duty.
The special itself is very well-produced and written; and thanks to what is likely the result of the friendship Tapper and Romesha have shared since 2010, in his own dignified fashion, Romesha looks and feels remarkably comfortable as he tells a story that moves, inspires, and even makes you laugh.
Tapper also stays out of the way of the story. It’s not hard to imagine any other “journalist” goading his subject to bad mouth the military or President Bush. But there’s none of the usual-usual we’ve come to expect from our awfully awful journalist class: “Is the war worth it? Do you blame the military?”
A big name celebrity embroiled in a scandal or some powerful politician prepped in advance to make news might have made a bigger splash (a sad statement to be sure). So it says a lot that Tapper would choose as his debut to tell this particular story and to honor this particular man.
Unless I missed it, Tapper stayed so far out of the way of his reporting, he didn’t even use the special to mention the best-seller he wrote about Romesha, his comrades, and this particular battle. I recommend both the book and, and, if it airs again, “An American Hero: The Uncommon Valor of Clint Romesha.”
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC