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CNN’s Jake Tapper On Benghazi, The Washington Post Sale, And The Macker

Thursday, August 8, 2013

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HH: I begin today’s hour with Jake Tapper of CNN. He hosts The Lead every afternoon. And in fact, today, Jake, you were talking to the head of the State Department over the worldwide terror alert. Yesterday, Jake, welcome, good to have you.

JT: Oh, it’s great to be here. And can I…do you play the Game of Thrones music for every guest?

HH: Yes.

JT: Or is it just for me because you think of me as like kind of an Edward Snow kind of character?

HH: Well, I was going to ask you who you were going to self-identify with, and you didn’t go with King Joffrey. No one ever says do you think of me as King Joffrey. No, I play it every hour, Jake. But you and Chris Cillizza are the two who enjoy it the most by far.

JT: It puts me in a great mood. I don’t know…can I just tell you one King Joffrey story?

HH: Yeah (laughing)

JT: We did a piece, we interviewed one of the co-creators of the HBO series, and he says they live in fear of the actor who plays King Joffrey getting his butt kicked in bars, that he is the nicest, apparently the nicest kid in the world, and they are constantly terrified that somebody is going to mistake him for his character.

HH: Well, most people think of talk show hosts as Tyrion-like, and so I always, I say no, we are really the House of Snow. Listen, I want to play for you Darrell Issa yesterday talking to me, two clips so that I can get your comment on your reporting from last week on Benghazi.

JT: Okay.

HH: Here’s clip number one.

HH: Congressman, do you think you know, I’m not sure you can tell us, but do you think you know what was going on, on the ground there? Was the CIA involved in the transfer of weapons to insurgents in Syria?

DI: Well, it’s not one of the items that we know, although I’ve seen it on the internet, too.

HH: And here’s the second clip.

HH: Do you believe that Ambassador Stevens was overseeing a weapons transfer in Benghazi that night?

DI: I believe he consulted with the Turkish ambassador, and that he was aware of all the activities in Libya, which might have included activities going on. But I don’t believe he was personally conducting or involved in it. It wasn’t his record.

HH: Now Jake Tapper, with that in mind, and with what the extraordinary reporting CNN is doing on the Benghazi story, what do you think was going on in Benghazi that night?

JT: Well, you know, we know from Drew Griffin’s report last week there were about 35 CIA operatives, officers on the ground in Benghazi. The question was what were they doing? Obviously, a lot of speculation that in addition to the State Department program to secure MANPADS and other weapons in Libya to make sure that they didn’t fall into the wrong hands, there is a lot of speculation about where these weapons may have ended up. And obviously, a lot of reporters have been looking for answers to that, and evidence about that for months and months and months, almost a year now. I don’t have any evidence or facts as of now about that. I mean, we’ve all heard the same speculation. We heard Rand Paul ask Hillary Clinton earlier this year if she knew anything about those weapons going to Turkey and then to Syria to help arm rebels against Bashar Assad, and Secretary Clinton, then-Secretary Clinton said she did not know that program, or anything like that, but that the Senator should ask the agency in charge of the annex, vis-à-vis the CIA. So we don’t know, but it is one of the mysteries. My understanding of what they were doing is they were doing typical intelligence gathering and work that you would do in a country as wild as Libya was at the time, and continues to be today with as little government operations and as little security as possible. But I don’t really know, and obviously we are all digging and continue to try to dig. And we’ve all heard the same speculation, and it’s all been denied officially, but of course, covert programs are covert programs for a reason. And ultimately, the truth will come out, and we’ll report it when we find out.

HH: Now let me turn to the most puzzling aspect of this, and it’s then-Secretary of State Clinton talking to Ambassador Hicks at 2am Libya time, and he’s got the axes out, his secretaries are smashing the computer drives. It’s like a scene from the movie that won all the Academy Awards this year.

JT: Argo.

HH: Argo. And then, they’ve got the Ambassador is missing, he’s later killed. She talks to him at 2am. She never calls him back. Have you heard an explanation for that, yet, Jake Tapper, as to why the Secretary of State would not at least call to give a little rally, pep talk, to her number two who’s replaced the number one who’s been murdered?

JT: No, I don’t know, and I don’t think there’s ever been publicly a thorough explanation of where and when phone calls were going back and forth and to whom. I don’t know. Look, the truth of the matter is that there, the story, I know that there are a lot of people who want the story just to be over. There has been a big attempt by Democrats to paint anybody who is asking questions about this as politicizing it. There has been a big attempt by Republicans to put out information that is not necessarily grounded in fact. And I think one thing is very clear on all of this. It’s not over, and there are still a lot of questions, a lot of things we don’t know. And ultimately, we will, but usually, the truth of things like this, covert operations, doesn’t come out until years later. And this has been accelerated, but the answers are not coming quick enough for me.

HH: And now I want to turn to a media story, Jeff Bezos purchasing the Washington Post days after the Boston Globe is picked up by the owner of the Red Sox in an obvious attempt to keep coverage of the Red Sox not neutral.

JT: (laughing)

HH: I wonder what do you think Bezos is up to?

JT: I don’t know. It’s such a miniscule amount of money for him, less than 1% of what he’s worth, right? He’s worth like $20 billion dollars or something like that. So I don’t know. I mean, I think ultimately, the tech industry is, wants to have a platform, wants to have, they have lobbyists in Washington, D.C. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on here having to do with lobbying that we don’t know about, and tech certainly is part of that in terms of intellectual property, in terms of privacy issues, in terms of what they’re forced to cooperate with by the government, in terms of trade. It doesn’t hurt for somebody like that to be involved as a major media player in the city, even if he lives in the other Washington. But I don’t know. Was it Charles Foster Kane who said I would like to buy a newspaper? I’m not really sure what would drive him other than this is obviously a guy who’s made his fortune having to do with books, and that there seems to be, and he seems to invest in things that tickle his intellectual fancy. And maybe owning one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, even if it’s not what it once was, is part of that.

HH: Now on that, we’re going to end up with a movie about Bezos that ends up with him saying Rosebudzos or something. But I think the by line is the brand in media now. And if you look at the Washington Post, and you used to be a print guy, and you run down, they’ve got some of the greatest reporters in the world. I saw that Dan Balz was on with you yesterday. He was on with me. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Greg Sargent, Cillizza, Del Wilbur, Jay Mathews, you name it, and they’re bloggers are great, Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent and Jennifer Rubin. Does he revolutionize it? Or does he just let it go on? Or does he free those writers to do even more of what they do well?

JT: I think that there needs to be a revolution at the Washington Post. I say this as somebody, the Washington Post, I loved the Washington Post before I read the New York Times. The first time I saw the Washington Post as a kid, I was raised in Philadelphia where the newspaper tradition is good, but the first time I saw the Washington Post, it was like a revelation of what a newspaper could be. And the newspaper has lost an unbelievable amount of talent in the last decade. There was a time in the city in the 90s where you would get the Washington Post, and after reading the front page, you would go right to the Style section, and you would read the Style section, you would read the Reliable Source, Lois Romano did it at the time. She now writes for Politico. But there’s been such an exodus of talent. There’s still some very, very talented people there. You named a bunch of them. There are others as well. But there’s been such an exodus of great talent there. And when you think about the fact that, and you should have one the founders of Politico to talk about it, but I believe the people who started Politico, John Harris wrote for the Washington Post at the time. And Jim Vandehei, I think he was with the Wall Street Journal at the time, I think they wanted to do it at the Washington Post. They wanted to do Politico at the Washington Post, and they were not allowed to fly. And so they left and did it on their own, and obviously, it’s been one of the few media success stories of the last decade. That kind of entrepreneurial spirit needs to be harnessed at the Washington Post, not kicked out the window.

HH: I couldn’t agree with you more. I said that on Kudlow last night, and I’m hoping that’s what happens. Quick local story, the Virginia Governor’s race, here’s a familiar voice.

TM: I’m Terry McAuliffe, and you should listen to the Hugh Hewitt Show every single day, the greatest radio show in the United States of America.

JT: (laughing)

HH: Now I think that could lose the election for him, Jake, don’t you?

JT: (laughing) That’s funny. Did you provide the script of that?

HH: No.

JT: Or did he, I mean, Macker is an irrepressible force. So I…

HH: He is the irrepressible force.

JT: You said do you mind plug the show? And he went off.

HH: You bet.

JT: But that’s remarkable.

HH: So do you think he can pull this off with all the scandal around him, but he’s still Terry McAuliffe. Ken Cuccinelli is a wonderful friend of the show. I hope he wins. But I mean, there’s a certain car crash element of Terry McAuliffe that would be fun to watch him as governor.

JT: I think you know that Terry McAuliffe, I obviously can’t take a position on Cuccinelli versus McAuliffe, but I think you know, I have never met Cuccinelli. Obviously, he’s waging a very formidable campaign. But I think you know the Macker is a fun guy to be around, whether or not you think he’d be a good governor.

HH: I couldn’t agree with you more. Jake Tapper from CNN, thank you.

End of interview.

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