CNN’s Jake Tapper opened hour three of my show today with some light-hearted discussion of this interview about his growing up in Philly before turning to the Florida gubernatorial race and the impact of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “chicken____” story wherein a “senior Obama Administration official” describes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as chicken dropping to the Atlantic correspondent.
HH: We begin hour three with Jake Tapper of CNN’s The Lead. Jake, welcome, that interview in Philadelphia Magazine may be one of the funniest I have ever read.
JT: Well that, the writer, Liz Spikol, and I have literally known each other since we were 7. So it really was, she just called and said let’s just talk about growing up, and we just reminisced. And it was fun.
HH: Philadelphia School sounds like a pretty “far out” place. You had hippies for parents, huh?
JT: Well, they weren’t really technically hippies. They were just, you know, progressives from that era protesting against the Vietnam War and such. I didn’t mean it literally. My father took issue because…
HH: Oh, he did?
JT: …hippies and yippies and all that meant something very specific at the time. They were obviously not actually that. He is a Harvard-educated pediatrician.
HH: You got in trouble. That’s very funny. You also mentioned that Jennifer Sey, I believe is her name, you looked her up on Facebook, and the love of your life when you were in 4th grade or whatever just didn’t even have a clue who you were, but she asked you to blurb her book anyway. That’s the funniest thing.
JT: Well, we became friends. We became friends on Facebook. It wasn’t just oh, I have no idea who you are, blurb my book. There was a process in there where we became friendly and caught up and such. And I was happy to blurb her book, which is really good. It’s called Chalked Up. It’s about her time as a youth gymnast. She almost made it to the Olympics. She was a national champion. But anyway, the crushing part that you harped on Twitter was that when through Facebook, I was able to finally find this girl that so occupied my thoughts when I was in second, third, fourth grade, she literally had no memory that I existed, none, I mean, absolutely none.
HH: So as I said to Marlon, my producer when we were driving around today, no one has a truly unique high school or junior high experience. They’re all the same. So that’s a great article. Now let’s turn to the serious stuff, Jake Tapper. First of all, congratulations on moderating the Rick Scott-Charlie Crist debate, two governors, one current, one former. Both want to be the next governor of Florida. And you did a fine job. But now I want you to take off your journalist hat, your non-partisan, absolutely down the middle hat, and put on your dad hat. And you’re at the Miami Hilton or someplace, and you’ve got to go out, and you call down, and Mrs. Tapper and you want to go out for a date, and need someone to say with the kids, and they offer you two babysitters – Charlie Crist or Rick Scott. Which one do you take?
JT: Is the independent candidate available?
HH: No. (laughing) No, you’ve got to pick one of those two to leave your kids with and…
JT: One of those two? I think either Charlie Crist or Rick Scott would be a fine babysitter. But you know, so whoever was, you’re not going to get me to, do you think, they’re both kind of quirky guys, right?
HH: They are. They really are. That’s why it was such…
JT: I mean, each of them in their own way, it’s funny, because Wolf Blitzer a couple of days later did the New Hampshire debate between the two Senate New Hampshire candidates, Scott, former Senator Scott Brown and current Senator Jeanne Shaheen. And that, to me, is almost like the polar opposite, because it seems like Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are both so disliked by voters at this point because of negative ads, and because both of them have been governor for four years and have made enemies during that time whereas Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown seem far more liked, it seems to me. And so they seem like opposite races.
HH: You know, the, Charlie Crist, though, has new people hating him. It’s the same people that hate Rick Scott from four years ago. But now, Charlie Crist has basically everybody hating him, just some people are willing to overlook their past hatred of him to vote for him. It was just such an odd debate, and your question selection was pretty good. And I want to ask you about the mechanics of when you picked questions from the Facebook/Twitter feeds. They were actually good, and as you know, most of those have been terrible debacles in the past when the public has participated. Did you vet that with any particular screen?
JT: Oh, no, absolutely. We, first of all, I should say we had a great team, and I’m not going to name them all, but there are great people at CNN. And we went over questions over and over and over. We went over the Facebook questions submitted, we went out to try to find real people affected by things. So if we were talking about medical marijuana, we found somebody, a father whose child, whose daughter, Rebecca, wants medical marijuana. We found a business owner who said that if the minimum wage was increased, she would have to lay off one of her workers. We really wanted to make it about Floridians as possible. When it came to the Facebook questions, we went in to pick out Floridians. We went in to make sure they were not operatives, that they were not people who were being paid by either campaign. And we tried to ask questions that were on subjects that we wanted to ask about, and that we thought were fair and accurate representations of what some people in Florida were thinking. So for instance, the first one from Facebook was from a woman who just said you know, Charlie Crist, it seems like the decisions you make, the flip flops you make, it’s all about political expediency and what’s best for Charlie Crist. Now that’s a question a lot of Floridians have. It’s probably one of the reasons why he is still not putting this thing away, even though at his height, he had a very, very high approval rating. People just don’t understand how you can go from being a moderate Republican to what seems like a fairly liberal Democrat within the course of a few years.
HH: Yeah, it was a hard-hitting, very fair question, and it shows that you can actually do that. And you were hard-hitting and very fair to Rick Scott as well. And it’s just possible to do a debate like that. Let’s turn to the big issue of the afternoon. I know you know Jeffrey Goldberg, at least I assume you do…
HH: And he probably knows American-Israeli relations better than anyone else in Washington, D.C. He has this piece at The Atlantic in which he quotes an unnamed senior administration official as calling Benjamin Netanyahu chicken****. Noah Pollak says he’ll put a thousand bucks on Jeffrey Goldberg’s chicken**** source being the very chicken****, Ben Rhodes. We don’t know, but that makes sense. That’s who Goldberg talks to. He talks to the national security deputy advisors and the President. This is a big deal. Even though Ebola’s a big deal, and ISIS is a big deal, the elections are a week away, and you have the President’s senior staff calling the prime minister of our strongest ally in the Middle East chicken****. What is wrong with that White House, Jake Tapper?
JT: Well, there are, I should say first of all, I haven’t read the story. And I talk to Ben Rhodes all the time, and I’ve never heard him say anything like that. So I have no idea if that’s accurate when you hypothesize and speculate that it’s him. There are a lot of, but I mean, what the quote gets at is there are a lot of really tough feelings, hard feelings going on between both the Netanyahu government and the Obama government right now. I mean, I think one of the things I just heard the other day, I was at an event, and somebody was telling me about somebody from the United States challenging an Israeli government official, like how come Obama and the Obama administration constantly gets attacked by members of the Netanyahu administration in Israel, like what purpose does that serve? So I think it goes both ways. We obviously pay more attention to the stuff that breaks in the English and American press. Look, they are, it’s hard to pick a leader of this country and a leader of that country that would like each other less than those two, with the possible exception of Obama and Ariel Sharon. It’s just, they are diametrically opposed when it comes to Israeli policy, and I think that those very substantive differences come out. I think that Netanyahu made no secret that he would have preferred Mitt Romney, who he’s known for decades, to be president, and that he views Romney as a stronger supporter of Israel. And I think Obama’s made it very clear that he thinks that Netanyahu is leading Israel down a path that is not in the best interest of Israel.
HH: But I’ll put it in this term…
JT: When I was in Israel a few months ago, Netanyahu made a comment to the American ambassador, basically along the lines that don’t tell me what to do when it comes to protecting my people. So these are very serious substantive differences. And while the difference might come out in anonymous quotes like that, using epithets, it’s not about small potatoes. It’s about big difference.
HH: And sure it is. But what surprises me is that it’s a week before an election in which the Jewish vote might indeed make a difference in a place like Florida, or a Senate race like New Hampshire, or a Senate race in Colorado. And these are not large numbers of voters who are motivated primarily by the American-Israel relationship, but they’re not insignificant, either. And this President has done repeatedly over the last three weeks things that Democratic candidates must be banging their head. And I don’t know if you’ll cover this on Election Night. You’re anchoring Election Night, aren’t you, with Wolf?
JT: Oh, yeah. It’s me, Wolf, Anderson. We’ve been rehearsing for weeks. It’s going to be a good, I’m going to be, we’re going to be there from 5pm to 3 or 4 in the morning. I can’t say until the last votes are counted, because…
JT: IT’s quite possible that there are going to be a couple of run offs.
JT: But it’s going to be exciting. I’m really excited.
HH: Well, you’ll be on in the corner of my radio studio. We’ll be going that night. But I hope you’ll find some time to talk about the President. We’ve got 30 seconds, Jake Tapper. It’s just been enigmatic to me how he’s conducted the last three weeks of this campaign. Do you agree?
JT: Well, I completely agree with you that Rick Scott and others in tight races, where there is a significant vote of people who support Israel, not just Jews, but Evangelicals, will be making huge hay out of that comment. And I bet it becomes a big issue in those Israel-supporting communities, absolutely.
HH: Jake Tapper, we’ll watch on Election Night. We’ll hopefully talk to you before that broadcast begins.
End of interview.