At long last this coming Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper will finally land where many of us have believed for years he most belongs: as the permanent host of his own Sunday morning news show. Two days from now, at 9 a.m. ET, Tapper grabs the reins of CNN’s “State of the Union.” He opens with a big “get,” former-President Bill Clinton, and you can bet the shady donations to and from the Clinton Foundation will come up (here’s a preview).
There are about a half-dozen mainstream media reporters whom conservatives and liberals alike trust, and it is long past time one lands on a Sunday morning.
Jake Tapper is also a great interview. As you’ll see below, he was open to discussing anything, and at times things got respectfully heated. Most of the interview was done over the phone. Thanks to Tapper’s gracious offer for follow-ups after already being generous with his time, some was done via email.
When you are doing a weekday show, and now a Sunday show, time is your most precious commodity. That weekday show, of course, is The Lead with Jake Tapper, which airs Monday thru Friday on CNN at 4 p.m. ET.
The conversation opens with a lengthy discussion about the current state of the Sunday news show — their declining impact in a media world with a news cycle that moves at speeds that seemed improbable just a decade ago. We moved from there to the status of Sam Raimi’s film adaptation of Tapper’s book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor.
From there it was Defcon 1, an invigorating debate/conversation about media bias involving the Clinton Foundation, Bruce “Call Me Caitlyn” Jenner, and Bill Clinton’s relationship with a convicted pedophile — something the media is, to no one’s surprise, not at all interested in talking about.
We agreed on some issues. Agreed to disagree on others.
BREITBART NEWS NETWORK: Let’s start with CNN’s “State of the Union.” You assume hosting duties this Sunday, correct?
CNN’S JAKE TAPPER: My first show is Sunday.
BNN: I read your interview with the Huffington Post, and it doesn’t sound yet like you or CNN are ready to reveal some of the changes you have in mind.
JT: Well, we are going to try a bunch of different things, just not all at once. Some things will work. Some things won’t. I just don’t want anyone tuning in on Sunday and thinking they will be watching “Sprockets.”
It is going to be a Sunday show. We are going to have a cartoon at the end of the show — a segment called “State of the Cartoonian” that will feature something by me or a guest. We’re going to have reported pieces and reporters on the ground if there’s news happening.
There are plenty of negative things people can say about me, but no one can say I don’t listen to constructive criticism or seek feedback and ideas. And what I learned from launching The Lead is that after six months, shows look a lot different than they did on day one.
BNN: Sunday’s my day off, and whenever possible I use it to completely escape from the news cycle. Monday mornings, though, the first thing I used to do is watch the Sunday shows, which I DVR every week. I find now that I don’t do that because by the time I start my shift at six or seven in the morning, the news cycle has already moved on from the Sunday shows. The impact, if there ever was any, has already dissipated.
Is this something on your mind as you enter this franchise?
JT: It is a very competitive media environment. There are some days with the kind of news-cycle where on The Lead I feel like I am doing a Sunday show, except it’s a Wednesday. I’ll have on a big guest representing the government, then two other guests, then analysts, then a roundtable — that’s a Sunday show. To work in an environment full of weekday Sunday-style shows, so to speak, you want to make your Sunday show appointment television.
If you have a huge guest everyone wants to hear from, that is obviously appointment television, but you are not always going to get that — there are a finite number of those. The job, then, is to make the interviews you do get as engaging, important, and compelling as possible.
Hopefully, those who have given up on Sunday shows will give us a shot. I think I have a reputation as a fair journalist. With the 2016 election kicking in and all the flux in Sunday show viewership, I feel like we’ll get a shot.
BNN: Over the years the normal cable hour has come to resemble the Sunday show, and the Sunday show has come to resemble the cable hour. They seem to have met pretty much in the middle.
BNN: Granted, there’s less confrontation and the hosts, like you and Chuck Todd, are the best political minds out there, but there is nothing else to distinguish a Sunday show from a cable hour.
JT: State of the Union will distinguish itself from a lot of cable hours, including The Lead, by being a show devoted to politics for an hour. A big breaking story could change that, but most cable hours, including The Lead, are generally about a lot more than politics.
JT: As far as The Big Interview, one thing we can do at CNN — that my friends and competitors on the other shows can’t — is deliver an in-depth interview that is more than just a few questions. We don’t feel the same pressure to keep moving to different topics for fear of losing viewers. CNN doesn’t have the same commercial-break pressures the networks have.
People are tuning in to get to know my guests. What I want is for a Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton to come on knowing they will get some tough questions but that there will also be time for the kind of biographical questions they haven’t had the chance to talk about.
In the current climate of the seven-minute interview, you’re not going to ask Marco Rubio about his time as Speaker of the Florida House — unless, of course, you are trying to hit on something he doesn’t want to talk about.
So one of the things I want to do is have viewers tune in and get a chance to really know a presidential candidate. I know from doing The Lead the constant pressure to change topics in order to keep people tuned it. If you watch the Sunday shows, you get the sense they are under the same pressure. Hopefully, State of the Union can try to fight that.
BNN: Beyond the headline of the day.
JT: Beyond the headline of the day. Listen, I know the pressures of having to be newsy and relevant and on top of what’s happening in the day’s news cycle. In that environment, you stick to that, not biographical questions. I think on Sunday mornings, the audience will appreciate that.
BNN: It is ironic that Tim Russert is considered, for legitimate reasons, the gold standard of the Sunday show host, and yet the Sunday shows have all drifted in the exact opposite direction of what made him the gold standard.
This was a man who became the gold standard through in-depth 20 to 25 minute interviews that had no commercial breaks. For almost a half-hour he would dig into a particular politician, and that’s why we all watched. It was informative reporting and engrossing television. And it wasn’t just about elections. Whatever was happening, Russert would bring on someone who knew his stuff about the day’s news or a specific bill, and dig in. The guest might not have been big on paper but Russert made the interview big.
Today the Sunday shows are all boom-boom-boom, three-five-seven minute segments… I understand the need to keep people tuned in, but Sundays are a different audience and should be different shows.
JT: I agree 100%. Look, CNN is cable. The networks chase ratings. Our numbers are different, so we can do things differently; we can go for what we want instead of what the broadcast networks need — and what we want are political junkies. We want the smart people who read Breitbart and Daily Kos and Politico and The Weekly Standard to tune in.
We think that if we aim our show at the audience that wants something more than the five-minute segment, we will win the ratings race for those people. It is not about the bigger number. We are not going to grab the most viewers in Missouri. What we want are the smartest viewers in Missouri.
BNN: I want to ask you about “The Outpost.” I would think the success of “American Sniper” would have kicked the movie adaptation into high-gear. What’s the status?
JT: I have two screenwriters, Paul Tomasy and Eric Johnson, they wrote “The Fighter,” and they are working on a draft now with Sam Raimi. I just this week got a very early rough draft. It’s a challenge because, as you know from reading it, it takes place over more than three years and revolves around four different casts of characters due to the four different rotations of companies assigned to Combat Outpost Keating.
BNN: I remember.
JT: The challenge is to remain faithful to that in a 90 minute movie as opposed to a ten-part miniseries.
BNN: I’m guessing this first draft is something like most first drafts: around 200 pages.
JT: Yeah, it’s long and a lot of the characters are already conflated. What’s important to Paul and Eric and Sam Raimi is to do more than just tell the story of the big battle. There’s also the larger story of what Americans were trying to do there, and why we were there. It’s interesting seeing a fictionalized version of something you know the actual history of.
BNN: And then it will become 100 pages that doesn’t even resemble the draft you have now. It can be a painful process.
JT: I’m confident that the final draft will be something to be proud of and tell the larger truth. And I have to say that what I have now is close.
BNN: Is the script already a page-turner?
JT: It is, even though I’m reading it as a reporter and fact-checker, not a movie-goer.
BNN: Let’s talk a little bit about the media in general and the news of the day. How do you think the media is going to handle the Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner story with Republican candidates? I already see a media using Jenner to construct traps for these candidates — boxes, where if someone doesn’t use the approved pronoun it will consume the news cycle and their candidacy.
JT: We both know there are people in the media who like to set traps for politicians — especially for Republican politicians, specifically conservative Republican politicians. I’m not one of them. I’m not out to get anyone.
BNN: I’m talking about the media in general, not you.
JT: Social issues are important.
JT: Abortion, the religious rights of bakers, the rights of gays and lesbians, Caitlyn Jenner… You know, I asked Marco Rubio if he considered these questions gotcha questions, and he said no, that social issues are important. I agree with him.
But I also believe that tough abortion questions should be asked of Democrats as well as Republicans. I understand that the Caitlyn Jenner story is complex and that the “T” in LGBT is something that society is just starting to discuss.
Frankly, we at CNN didn’t even have a policy of what to call Chelsea Manning when he became Chelsea Manning.
BNN: Couple questions: In the current media environment, as you see and work in it, would you ever be able to do a segment exploring the belief by some in the medical community that the so-called transgendered, like Jenner, are mentally ill and in need of intensive therapy? Could you give a legitimate line of scientific inquiry like that a hearing without finding yourself vilified, maybe to the risk of your career?
JT: First off, I’ve never been told not to do a segment. But I don’t think it will affect the presidential race at all. The idea of asking a candidate about it has never crossed my mind. I’ve only done one segment on the story. We looked at the money being made by Caitlyn Jenner, ABC News, and so on.
Is your point of contention about Caitlyn Jenner specifically, or is it about people in the transgender community as a whole.
BNN: There is a valid opinion in the scientific community that says that people who want to switch genders are mentally ill. Legitimate people who have studied this, say that a sex change oftentimes results in a higher suicide rate and more overall misery.
And I see a media that is only interested in pretending that this is another civil rights movement, primarily so they can lay traps for conservatives, when the truth might be that what the media is promoting and normalizing could be self-destructive behavior.
JT: My general view is that I believe in tolerance and acceptance. And I think that’s why people like you consider me a fair reporter. I’m not someone who says, this person has a religious belief and therefore they are a bigot. Alternately, I also don’t automatically accept as okay someone who is going along with the larger narrative. That’s just not how I view the world. But I do believe in acceptance.
When I think about the trans community as I know it, and again this is not an area I am well schooled in, I think about kids of friends of friends who are convinced they were born the wrong gender. That’s who I think about — and what a conundrum and challenge that might be for parents.
But I’m not going to be doing a political show that looks at this topic in the way you are talking about it.
Am I willing to have a panel about Americans having to grapple with this? Sure. But my knee-jerk response to a situation like this is not to assume that someone doing what they want means they are mentally ill.
BNN: That’s not my knee-jerk reaction, either. I am just troubled by a media blackout on a legitimate scientific point of view. I don’t know who is right or wrong. But it should be discussed, not wrist-flicked and condemned as bigotry.
JT: You have to keep in mind that a lot of people are talking about these issues for the first time. They are just learning about this issue. And I don’t look at the media world — and I’m sure the transgender community doesn’t look at the media world — as this institution that will go along with everything GLAAD has to say about this.
My job is to air these issues in a respectful and thoughtful way.
BNN: But also a truthful way. And sometimes the truth, or what might be the truth, or one line of thought, is at odds with the entire left-wing infrastructure that is allowed by the media to decide what bigotry and discrimination is.
JT: I’m not afraid to bump up against those folks.
BNN: No you are not. And to be clear, I’m talking about the media at large, not you. But it’s going to be a 2016 issue, and I see a media gearing up to condemn any Republican who suggests that Jenner might not be something to celebrate. The media trap is that you either celebrate what could be a delusion brought on by a mental illness, or you’re a bigot.
JT: I don’t know anything about these experts who believe that the transgendered are suffering from a mental illness. What’s clear to me, from what little I know about Cailtlyn Jenner, is that Caitlyn Jenner has been in a lot of pain and I hope the decisions Caitlyn Jenner has made gives Caitlyn Jenner peace.
SAME SEX MARRIAGE
BNN: We all agree on that. But just look at how the media treats same-sex marriage. It is now de facto discrimination to oppose same-sex marriage, even if you believe as I do, and have for decades, that committed same sex couples should enjoy the same rights as married couples. We’re seeing the media treat Christianity as de facto hate speech simply because, like most sexual behavior, homosexuality is a sin.
JT: I do not believe that religious people are de facto bigots, nor do I agree with calling them that. Those are personal religious beliefs. That’s one of the things about this country — you can hold those beliefs. There are millions of people who believe that because I’m Jewish, I’m going to Hell. I don’t agree with them, but that’s fine.
BNN: You have called it an act of discrimination when a Christian baker chooses to not participate in a same-sex wedding through his business.
JT: Let’s let the readers know that after I interviewed an Arkansas lawmaker about their religious freedom act, you and I had a private email debate about this, and you objected to my use of the word “discriminate.” We had a heated but respectful conversation where I just disagreed.
BNN: “Discrimination” is a very loaded term.
JT: My feelings on the use of the word “discriminate” is that if you have a bakery and you refuse to serve anyone because of your religious views, that is de facto an act of discrimination — it is being discriminating.
BNN: Is it discrimination for a Muslim printer to refuse to print something Pam Geller brings to him?
JT: Yes, it’s discriminating against Pam Geller based on her ideas.
As a journalist, broadcaster, and person, I embrace all ideas. Yours, and people who disagree with you. And that openness is what I want to bring to the show.
BNN: Let’s move on to Hillary Clinton’s issues.
JT: Which one?
BNN: Exactly. The Clinton Foundation scandal and even more specifically, the apparent conflicts with the Foundation donations and her job as Secretary of State. Let me start off by saying that thus far the mainstream media has done a pretty good job covering this.
I do wonder, though, if the turning point in the media that we saw with Republicans’ Aaron Schock, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell, will ever happen with Hillary — and by that I mean the moment where the media says it’s time for an independent investigation. That narrative is usually the kill shot to a political career. Do you ever see the media going that far?
JT: Don’t over-generalize with your use of the term “The Media.” I’m an anchor and a reporter. I don’t call for investigations.
BNN: But the editorial pages…
JT: Right, the editorial pages and the pundits do that. Do I think it’s possible it will happen to Hillary? Sure. Absolutely. I don’t think it’s impossible. There are lots of question about why the email server was wiped clean.
BNN: And why she won’t give it up to a third party investigator.
JT: Right. And keep in mind there is a congressional inquiry now looking into her server and emails. Sid Blumenthal might testify. Hillary Clinton is going to testify. So there is already an investigation. As far as the attorney general, that’s not for me to decide.
BNN: Well, again, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the media as a whole…
JT: You think we are all this giant Borg-Collective.
BNN: Not “all.” There are about five of you…
JT: I see some of the bias you see. But I don’t see it as a war, which is the way you see it.
BNN: We didn’t start it.
JT: And I tend to think that some of your views of the media are a little overstated. You and I have debated this in the past and will again. But I don’t think that if you talk to Hillary Clinton’s people that they will claim that they have had an easy time of it the last six months.
BNN: Okay, but with all the MSM reporters based in DC, and all the rumors swirling for years around the Clinton Foundation, and all the reporters assigned to cover Ms. Clinton, why did it take a conservative outsider like Peter Schweizer to connect these dots?
For years all this questionable stuff at the Clinton Foundation went on right under the DC press corps nose — the same press corps that found Rick Perry’s 25 year-old rock, the jewelry purchases of Jeb Bush’s wife, Mitt Romney’s 50 year-old haircut, Marco Rubio’s wife’s traffic tickets…
Can you understand that things like this only make us believe that the media is primarily a political outlet protecting Democrats and attacking Republicans?
JT: As you and I have discussed at length, I certainly understand why sometimes decisions made by certain media outlets would be viewed as re-affirmations of those who think the MSM is biased, and as a general rule, I think the media needs to vet all the candidates, left right and center, with the same vigor and skepticism. But I think your conclusion is entirely premature.
Prior to Schweizer’s book, I’ve conducted and read investigative reporting on the Clintons for years, including on her use of a private email server, and about the Clinton Foundation. All of these questions about the Clinton Foundation would have come out sooner or later – and once the questions were raised, the MSM did heavy reporting on it – some outlets even reaching exclusive agreements with Mr. Schweizer to explore his leads further.
Presidential campaigns are vigorous, and I don’t doubt that each of the candidates will be researched and subjected to intense scrutiny. It’s a little early to be drawing conclusions about whether the 2016 race has been covered unfairly. Let’s talk about it in November 2016.
BNN: Fair enough, but in the end I don’t believe for a second that the media will ever cross the line they always do with Republicans — where a scandal is allowed to disqualify her for president. I saw the media engage in a relentless campaign to disqualify Romney using his “47%” remark and his taxes, not to mention Christie and McDonnell.
Let me put it this way: the media does not want the truth enough about the Clinton Foundation that they are willing to call for a Justice Department investigation. If the choice is between uncovering the full truth and a Republican president, the media is going to say, “You know what, we don’t want the truth that bad.”
JT: These are sweeping generalizations about the media.
BNN: Intentionally, so.
JT: Do I think there are some reporters who feel that way? Sure. Do I think the media writ large feels that way? I think it’s a lot more complicated than that. Again, you and I have discussed this and I’ve been very open about the media tipping the scales for Obama a little bit in 2008 — both in his race against Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
But there were also self-inflicted wounds in the Romney and McCain campaigns.
BNN: Is there a legitimate journalistic reason the media’s not covering President Clinton’s relationship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein? Are those of us on the right missing something? Because we smell yet another double-standard media cover-up — another, “If this were a Republican…”
JT: My understanding of the Epstein case is that after he was sentenced to prison for solicitation of an underage girl in 2008, pretty much all of the fancy movers and shakers in his world lost his number, Democrats and Republicans alike. I don’t have a double standard for asking politicians about past associations, but I do have a standard, and at this stage what has come out doesn’t rise to the top of my list of pressing questions, for Clintons or Bushes or whomever. As I understand it, no one has testified or suggested in a deposition that any of the many pols in Epstein’s orbit did anything untoward.
WHAT CONSERVATIVE MEDIA CRITICS DO WRONG
BNN: What else do you think conservative critics get wrong about the media?
JT: If not just conservative critics; left-wing media critics also want the media to improve — they think we’re all part of the national security complex who believe everything the government says. I hear from those people all the time.
My best advice is to engage in constructive criticism and engagement. Keep in mind that at no time in history have people had more access or easier access to those who shape and report the news. Never. On Twitter, I follow a lot of the same people you follow, and I see them attacking reporters, and I just know that means that those reporters are going to either block them or mute them and never hear from them again. Nothing is gained calling them hacks or clowns.
I hear from people all the time who ask me to reconsider a point of view or the way I report something. I don’t think I do this, but an example would be someone on the Left asking why I take everything the FBI says at face value. But it does catch my attention that on this particular story someone believes I just took the government’s word. That’s a criticism I’ll consider.
Same thing when conservatives ask why we are automatically assuming that the way the media is characterizing this piece of legislation is correct, and then they send me the original bill. That kind of criticism actually has an impact on me. And I think it does with more of my colleagues than you might think. But just calling people names is a waste of time. All you’re doing is ensuring that person will never listen to you again.
BNN: I’m sorry but when it comes to the media “reasonable” has been tried, and it’s gotten us nowhere. The media are waging war on us so it’s got to be all out war in response. Of course, this is something else we’ve discussed.
JT: And I know that’s how you feel.
BNN: Nothing is going to change until the media is completely and utterly defeated by any truthful means necessary. For more than a decade, Brent Bozell and the Media Research Center were out there, Bernie Goldberg was out there, both being respectful and reasonable. When the Internet first came of age, we all assumed that would be the perfect tool to point out the media’s biases. Stupidly, some of us assumed that was all it would take. We assumed that once we pointed these biases out, the media would be shamed into or convinced to change. These are reasonable people who want to viewed professionally, right? Wrong.
And what happened?
The media is more partisan now than before. A lot more partisan. Moreover, the media is more unified in that partisanship than ever before, especially when it comes to their daily narratives. You say the media’s not the Borg-Collective, but day after day, everyone in the media talks about the exact same stories in the exact same ways.
Granted, there are notable exceptions like yourself and a few others, but you are exceptions that prove the rule.
Look at the top five stories at any media outlet and they are almost always pushing the same five stories with the exact same narrative and point of view. It is not an accident, in my opinion, that no one in the mainstream media ever talks about the benefits of federalism, no one dares suggest the federal government should in any way be smaller, everyone frames government largesse and intervention as a righteous act, and no one in the media ever says that maybe we should wait for the facts before screaming racism. I’m supposed to be respectful to people–
JT: All I can tell you is that in my experience–
BNN: — who call me racist? Yes, but you are the exception–
JT: –is that listening to people from all walks of life has helped me understand my inherent biases and make me a better and more honest reporter. I can tell you what works for me is that when people ask me politely to reconsider something. They can be assertive, that’s fine, and I will reconsider it. And I know lots of smart, very reasonable reporters; and I can’t believe that approach wouldn’t work on them, too.
There are a lot more reporters whose mind will be open to that kind of approach. In all the noise of Twitter and social media, civility is the only thing that breaks through. Trust me.
BNN: Great conversation. Thanks, Jake.
JT: Thank you.
Breitbart News would again like to thank Jake Tapper, his staff, and CNN for making this interview possible.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC