You could just as well ask, if ABC had made me the anchor of Nightline, would I have joined CNN? And I guess the answer is no, Tapper says. But people make decisions based on a whole combination of factors over a long period of time. I dont want to get all Ray Bradbury on you, but its like if you step on a butterfly and a thousand years later people start speaking a different language. I didnt quit ABC because of This Week.
If presenting the news aggressively is indeed the new CNN game plan, Tapper is certainly the obvious guy to lead the way. Though the notoriously constricted White House press corps rarely cracks open investigative stories, Tapper has won several broadcasting awards for breaking news ranging from the tax problems that derailed Obama cabinet nominee Tom Daschle to Standard and Poors plans to downgrade the U.S. credit rating.
Tapper became ABCs senior White House correspondent after Obamas election in 2008 and quickly garnered a reputation as the Obama administrations toughest inquisitor. Typical exchange: Last fall, after President Obama dismissed Mitt Romneys criticism of the White House account of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya as a case of shooting first and aiming later, the administration changed its story. Tapper led off the next days press briefing with the question: Didnt President Obama shoot first and aim later?
Moments like that have won him admiration from Obama critics an atypically fair reporter, the fiercely conservative HotAir website calls him in perhaps the wildest praise it has ever bestowed on a mainstream-media journalist and barely subdued hostility from the administration. When Tapper asked outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which of the titles shes held over the years was her favorite, she retorted: I prefer any of them to what we call you when youre not around.
That, and Tappers occasional mild suggestion that some of the Washington press corps has taken it easy on Obama, has led to speculation on both the left and right that hes a closet conservative, insultingly or flatteringly as the case may be. The talk makes Tapper uncomfortable, even when its intended to be complimentary. I dont think conservative groups think Im conservative, he demurs. They know I was tough on George Bush, and they have been pleased to see that Im just as tough on Obama.
Tapper prefers to keep mum about his politics, but his background early in his career he worked in the office of a Democratic congresswoman, then for the lobbying group Handgun Control suggests, if anything, the opposite of conservatism.
Ive never seen anything to indicate hes particularly conservative, says conservative journalist Tucker Carlson, a friend of Tappers since they were young reporters in the late 1990s. I think of Jake as aggressively fair. Jake is what most TV correspondents only pretend to be highly aggressive in pursuit of whoevers in power. Most of them actually give a pass to the politicians they like and are savage with those they dont. Jake was tough on the Bush administration and now hes tough on Obama.