CNN’s Jake Tapper joined me to open the program today.
HH: I begin today with Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s The Lead, who has been doing a fine job today throughout the day covering this. Jake, welcome, it’s a different sort of attack. It’s the first of its kind when the victims of Islamic terrorism were chosen. Most of the time, they’re just random, whether in the Twin Towers or in the Madrid train station, or the London subways. These people were targeted for assassination by Islamists.
JT: Very specifically targeted, and according to the deputy mayor of Paris who I had on my show just an hour or so ago, they shouted out, that the terrorists shouted out the names of some of those that they killed as they killed them. Obviously, four cartoonists, including the editorial director of the satirical magazine, so yes, very disturbing in that sense, and also when you look at the tape and you look at what this attack was, it seems very, professional is not the right term, but not the kind of random, slipshod, lone wolf attack that we’ve seen in the past, whether in Ottawa or in Australia most recently. These looked like mercenaries, when you looked at the one. One or two of the three do, which has led some individuals, we had on Mike Rogers, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman, we had on Congressman Adam Schiff, current member of the House Intelligence Committee, leading them to suspect, although nothing’s definitive, yet, that these maybe were individuals who had been trained abroad, perhaps even fought abroad in Syria or Iraq, as has been the fear now for so long, since ISIS really came up.
HH: Yeah, they have tactical proficiency, and it was a strategically-chosen target in that they knew what they were doing and they were sending a message. Coming up next hour, I interviewed Lindsey Graham just before the show began, and I want to play for you a minute and a half of that to get your reaction. First, I played for him a couple of quotes from President Obama, and then Lindsey Graham had some extraordinary things to say, Jake Tapper. Here is what the Senator from South Carolina said.
BO: The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam…Now let’s make two things clear. ISIL is not Islamic.
HH: Now on Sunday, on New Year’s Day, Senator Graham, the president of Egypt, al-Sisi…
HH: …went to the al-Azhar University in Cairo and told the imams assembled there that you are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move, because this ummah is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost, and is being lost by our own hands. He called for a reform of Islam. Why can’t our President and our leaders say, speak truth to this situation the way that the president of Egypt just did?
LG: I think the President of the United States is undercutting the president of Egypt. We’re in a religious war. These are not terrorists. They’re radical Islamists who are trying to replace our way of life with their way of life. Their way of life is motivated by religious teachings that require me and you to be killed, or enslaved, or converted. The President of the United States tip-toes around the threats we face, and he is trying to diminish the religious aspect of this war. Why? I don’t know. And he is not engaging the enemy in an aggressive fashion, which makes it more likely we’ll get attacked. What he’s doing is pretending to want to destroy ISIL when in fact he’s trying to get out of office without having to commit American ground forces to do the job as part of a team in the region, because he made a campaign promise. His campaign promises, Hugh, are getting a lot of people killed. This is not a cartoon problem.
HH: Jake Tapper, what do you make of that?
JT: There’s a whole lot to unpack in what Senator Graham just said. Let me say that I’ve heard similar criticisms of President Bush. In fact, every time you see the hashtag #religionofpeace anytime there is an act of Muslim terrorism, Islamic terrorism, and people sarcastically say religion of peace. I always feel like it’s kind of mocking what President Bush said, since he’s the one who really made that phrase famous. And I don’t want to, I’m not trying to change the subject from President Obama to President Bush, except I do want to note that it is, I think, something that presidents of the United States have to think about, which is when one says this is a religious war, or one perhaps elevates the shooter in Australia, or the shooter in Ottawa, are you doing something that can possibly help the terrorists with propaganda? Are you, remember how much flack Bush took when he, I think accidentally, used the word crusade to talk about the fight against terrorism? I think that that’s a consideration for people like President Obama, like President Bush.
HH: Clearly, it is, and I’ve asked George W. Bush about that, and I pointed that out to Lindsey Graham as well. What I’m pointing at is on Sunday, the president of Egypt went to the most important university in Cairo…
HH: …and told them Islam needs reform, because it’s spun out of control…
HH: So it’s not us anymore if the president of Egypt, who’s probably the most important leader in the Arabic world can say to the imams assembled you’ve really screwed this up, why can’t we, Jake?
JT: Well, I don’t think it has, I mean, we can. I guess the argument would be, could be it doesn’t mean anything coming from us. But it might mean something from General Sisi. I saw that you wrote about this, that speech, the remarkable speech that Sisi gave on January 1st. And in fact, we were planning on covering it today until the Paris attacks obviously overtook the news that we were going to cover today. But we were going to cover that, because you’re right. It was a remarkable moment for the leader of Egypt, as you say, arguably the most important country in the Arab world, certainly one of the leading countries in the Arab world. Why can’t we? We can.
HH: But here’s the question.
JT: There needs to be a reformation of Islam. But I mean, I guess the question that somebody like President Obama or President Bush, or Jeb Bush, or whomever has to ask themselves is does that help the argument, or does it hurt the argument.
HH: And here’s the other question. Earlier in the day, Lindsey Graham talked to your Dana Bash and said the people in your business are in trouble. They figured out to start, go kill journalists, and they’ll shut up people. Do you think that our business has been intimidated by Islamists in the coverage of this war?
JT: I don’t know that the coverage of the war, but certainly can look at, I mean, ever since the Muslim cartoons became an issue in 2006, when that Danish newspaper published those 12 cartoons, one can’t look at the story and not say that there isn’t a factor of practical concern for employees of media organizations when it comes to reporting on these items. And you know, you could, it could be cast as intimidation, it can be cast in any number of ways. But you can’t argue that it hasn’t had an effect on how these stories are covered.
HH: Sure, and I’ve actually never been in a war zone.
JT: …because if you’re Roger Ailes, or if you’re, it doesn’t matter who you are. You don’t want your employees being killed because of a graphic you showed on your show.
HH: Right. I’ve never been in a war zone. You have. John Fisher Burns was in Baghdad for five years. I’m going to talk to him about this. But media executives everywhere have to decide whether or not they’re going to bluntly talk about the Islamists and the problem within the religion that Sisi talked about. And I think one of the reasons that the Sisi speech wasn’t covered is that major media didn’t, I’m glad to hear you were going to cover it today, but the New York Times didn’t cover it, the Washington Post only in a blog, I think they don’t really want to tangle with these people.
JT: I don’t know that, I can’t give you a reason. I honestly didn’t even know about that speech. And it might have been, and maybe some of the coverage wasn’t because it happened on January 1st, where a lot of people weren’t working.
HH: Oh, that’s a point.
JT: But when I found out about it, I said this seems important. Jeff Zucker agreed, and there was a plan that we were going to cover it today. Like I said, news overtook it. I don’t think that’s the issue. You certainly hear a lot of criticism of the “Muslim world” when it comes to Pakistan, when it comes to women’s rights, when it comes to, you know, how people are treated in the justice system in Saudi Arabia, etc. I don’t think that’s where the intimidation comes. I think the intimidation comes when it’s direct threats like if you publish this cartoon, your employees will be at risk, their lives will be at risk. You saw that in 2006 with, I remember I was at ABC News in 2006. And I wondered how come there isn’t one news organization, one major news organization showing these 12 cartoons?
HH: Yeah, excellent point, Jake. And CNN’s coverage this afternoon has been extraordinary, Spectacular, actually. I’m going back to watch it during the break. Thanks for joining me.
End of interview.