CNN’s Jake Tapper on the State of Political Journalism in the Trump Era

Jake Tapper CNN
CNN's Jake Tapper at Samantha Bee's "Not the White House Correspondent's Dinner" on April 29.
REX Shutterstock

“You could have come anytime in the last 100 days and it would have been an interesting time to be in Washington. But boy, you came at an interesting time to be [here], with the firing of the FBI director [James Comey] and all of the angst and debate that is going on.”

That is how CNN anchor Jake Tapper opened his speech at the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America summit in the nation’s capital on Thursday.

After discussing the constant developments in the controversial Comey situation, Tapper — whose hard-charging interview style has been lauded during the early days of President Trump’s administration — discussed the “unpredictable news-filled experience we’re all going through. It has certainly been an exhilarating experience, and exhausting experience, for those of us in the media who are trying to [cover] this in a way that’s fair and impartial.”

Here are some key takeaways from Tapper’s speech:

On the two Donald Trumps:

“What I think a lot of Donald Trump fans see is that his campaign was predicated on four very reasonable arguments, and they’re all anti-Washington: Washington is broken, it doesn’t work for you, it’s built on a swamp. Two, Washington is broken and it doesn’t look out for you when it negotiates trade deals, it doesn’t look out for your jobs. Three, Washington is broken and it doesn’t look out for your borders. Four, Washington isn’t doing a lot to protect you and your family from terrorism. That’s why a lot of people supported him, for anti-Washington, perfectly reasonable arguments. A lot of other people see only the unreasonable part: the racially coated language, the mockery of the disabled, the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, the lies, the nontrue statements over and over again. They’re both Donald Trump.”

On the Trump tipping point in the campaign:

“There were moments throughout the campaign I did think he might win. The deepest memory I have [goes back to the] Republican presidential debate [I moderated] at the Reagan Presidential Library — when he had already been at the top of the polls. It was a three-hour debate, and it was feisty. He was out there and he was aggressive and he was speaking his mind. It was September 2015, and a lot of rivals thought he would burn out. I was a little bit more skeptical because I didn’t see who was going to take him down. … [The other candidates] weren’t willing to take him on.”

President Donald Trump President Donald Trump speaking at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. REX Shutterstock.

On the journalism divide:

“It’s much easier to be a partisan journalist. Right now, partisan TV is rewarded with ratings. Another reason why it’s easier to be on a team — whether you’re in the Obama era or the Trump era — is because you get supported by people on that team. Very few people support people who are just trying to call balls and strikes. Whatever you think of James Comey, he was trying to call balls and strikes. That’s what we in the media are supposed to be doing, too. It’s now quite obvious that President Obama had a cheering section in the media, and President Trump has a similar thing. But it’s different now, because we are now in an era where social media has been weaponized both by partisans in this country and others outside of the country. We know that there are consulting firms that not only do positive messaging but negative messaging.”

On the rise of “fake news” and President Trump’s role in that:

“This is a dangerous place for us to be, because it happens at the same time there is a major political figure — the president — who is trying to undermine that which is true and factual. He wants to make sure his supporters, his base, only believes him. That is why ‘fake news’ has become a term. It’s a time for vigilance in the media — not only for people in the media to stand up for what’s right and true, but for us to not get swept away by our emotions and think that because this is not normal behavior by President Trump, that everything he does isn’t normal and acceptable. When everything’s a scandal, nothing is a scandal. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s important for reporters on Twitter to check themselves. There’s a time for outrage and there’s a time for calm, steady reporting. This is also a time for vigilance for news consumers — to make sure you know who you’re listening to and why you trust them. But [it’s also] important to hear alternative viewpoints.”

Jake Tapper CNN CNN’s Jake Tapper with former President Barack Obama at a town-hall meeting in Fort Lee, Va., on Sept. 28. REX Shutterstock

On how he was portrayed on “Saturday Night Live” in the Kellyanne Conway “Fatal Attraction” sketch:

“I go to bed really early on Saturdays because I have a Sunday show. My wife is a big fan of ‘SNL,’ and the morning after the Kellyanne Conway ‘Fatal Attraction’ skit, my wife woke up [to tell me about it] when I woke up, at 6 a.m. — which she never does. Usually when I’m depicted on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it’s fine. It’s not judgmental at all. The truth of the matter is that that one was a little weird, because my wife thought it was sexist to sexualize Kellyanne Conway. Her point was why was it a woman in the administration who was sexualized, as opposed to the many other ways they could make fun of her. Generally speaking, I think I emerged unscathed from it.”