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Jake Tapper On Media Bias And The Government Shutdown

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

HH: As temperatures rise, America, attention remains focused in a way that I just have never seen on domestic politics outside of an election season. Joining me now, Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s The Lead every single afternoon, and tonight, hosting a CNN special at 11pm eastern, 8pm on the Pacific, specifically on the shutdown for 30 minutes. And I wonder if we haven’t got a new Nightline developing here, Jake. Do you think you’re going to be doing this for a while?

JT: Please tell me that this is not going to go as long as the Iranian hostages crisis. That was what, 444 days or something?

HH: Exactly. Exactly.

JT: Oh, my Lord, I hope not. I hope this only goes for a few more days.

HH: But do you plan on doing this every night? Because I think, actually, you’ll have huge ratings.

JT: Well, we’ve had, we did it during that week when it looked like we were about to attack Syria, and the ratings were okay. They were, some nights really good, some nights okay, and then we did it last week, too. And it, you know, it’s challenging, because you’re really, you do a show at 4, and then you do a show at 11. But it’s a totally different format, because it’s basically just me and two other reporters, usually Gloria Borger and Dana Bash sitting down with a lawmaker and just talking, having a conversation about the issue of the day. And to be completely honest, it’s a little bit more interesting, it was a little bit more interesting for me when you have somebody on who is not just reciting talking points, but they’re actually trying to have like a conversation.

HH: I just had that kind of a conversation with Devin Nunes. He’s a terrific…

JT: He’s exactly the kind of person I’m talking about. We had him on last week, and he was fantastic.

HH: Now Jake Tapper, first question, do you think the President and the Democrats’ rhetoric is qualitatively different than the Speaker and the Republicans’ rhetoric?

JT: Well, I haven’t heard the Republicans, we’re just talking about insults now, not anything else. I haven’t heard Republicans comparing the Democrats to suicide bombers or to kidnappers or to arsonists. But it’s possible that I’m not paying close enough attention.

HH: I don’t think I’ve heard it, either. I think the only tough talk from the Republicans has been against Republicans. And I’m curious if you think that is making it more difficult to reach a compromise here, the rhetoric?

JT: Probably, but you know, I mean to be fair to the Democrats here, there has been years of rhetoric of Obama is not from the United States, and he is a socialist, and he is…and so I might be grandfathering in the language that I’ve been hearing for years from the likes of Congressman Brown of Georgia and others, where it’s just so over the top, I don’t even notice it, necessarily, anymore, because he constantly says that Obama and Obamacare and the Democrats are destroying America or taking down America. None of it is helpful. And I know you paid attention when Dan Pfeiffer, the White House advisor was on my show…

HH: Right.

JT: And I think had a hat trick of comparing the Republicans to suicide bombers, arsonists and kidnappers all in one interview…

HH: Right.

JT: …which was quite an accomplishment.

HH: And Nancy Pelosi has said the Republicans were arsonists. And does that help at all, Jake Tapper?

JT: Well, I mean, I think at this point, probably the most helpful thing is for people to, and I think Harry Reid said this, the Senate majority leader, not long ago, for everybody to take a step back and try to you know, dampen down the rhetoric. And the truth of the matter is we are clearly in a situation here where, and both sides need to be able to say that this was a compromise at the end of the day, or I mean, both sides would like to say they win, right? I mean, both Boehner and Obama would like to say we walked away from that and we won. But at this point, in trying to find a way out of this morass, there needs to be at least some sort of face-saving for somebody, for both sides. This isn’t going to be a defeat, because ultimately, we know that defeat ends up hurting everybody, because your retirement, Hugh, not that you’re thinking of retirement, but your retirement and my retirement, and everybody’s investments, could be really hurt by an impasse that ends up going beyond the date of October 17th, which is when we’re told that we hit the debt ceiling.

HH: Before I come back to the media, I’ve been talking about the Gates option, which is I think there’s really only one person left in Washington, D.C. that is respected, indeed almost admired, on both sides of the aisle, which is former Secretary of Defense Gates, who’s down at William and Mary as their chancellor now. Is there a place for one of these legendary wisemen like Gates to be summoned by the President to find a middle ground between the parties?

JT: I wish. I feel like the solutions to our nation’s fiscal problems have been given to wisemen a lot of times, whether it’s Simpson-Bowles, or I could name a hundred commissions, and everybody would turn off the radio, so I won’t do that to you. But I like the idea of a Gates coming in, swooping in, but honestly, at the end of the day, I think this has to be Obama and Boehner. And I think the real question is what is Boehner able to exact from the President that will allow him to save enough face with his caucus that a deal can happen?

HH: But you know, that’s even defining it in a way, Jake Tapper, that now we’ll get to the media.

JT: Yeah.

HH: If you define it as saving the face with the caucus, that doesn’t save your face. In fact, medical device tax repeal would be a huge win for Boehner, and that’s doable. But if the media, and this gets to my question of context, do you think the media is a wind at the President’s back, and wind in the face of the Speaker, because that’s what I sense, especially with things like saving face for Boehner as opposed to the President saving face with the country?

JT: Well, but here’s the context, Hugh, and you know I’m usually, I usually come on the side of, like I think the media needs to be a little bit more fair on X, Y or Z.

HH: Right.

JT: But this is a situation that John Boehner is on the record opposing. He opposed, and I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but he opposed tying, defunding Obamacare to funding the government. He opposed that as a strategy, because he thought, he said on the record in March this would lead to a government shutdown. And yet, for whatever reason, this is the path he pursued. I’m not saying that I think that the negotiations should result in one way or another. But John Boehner’s survivability as leader of the Republicans in Congress is very much at issue here, because he’s the Speaker of the House. At the end of the day, he could have put a clean government funding bill on the floor as he said he wanted to, and something changed. And it wasn’t that they convinced him of the evils of Obamacare, because he had already supported something like 42 votes against Obamacare, and he was going to continue to press it. Something changed, and that’s why I do think that it’s not, we’re in the shutdown, I’m not saying that we’re still in the shutdown because of just the Republicans, but the shutdown happened because Republicans pursued a strategy that their leader knew would lead to a shutdown.

HH: Sure, but that is in fact legitimate, and what I was arguing about the media is that what the media does is delegitimize what are legitimate political choices, and thereby strengthening the President’s hand. Last quick question…

JT: Well, I want to know what you mean. No, tell me what you mean by that.

HH: What I mean by that is that when we say that he changed his mind, yes…

JT: Right.

HH: …he changed his mind in response to pressure from within his caucus, which is perfectly acceptable for a Speaker to do, because that’s a Speaker’s job.

JT: Sure, sure.

HH: And that when the media suggests that that’s illegitimate, or that he’s changing his mind and they don’t look at Harry Reid, or they don’t look at the President’s rhetoric of the crisis from years ago when he used the debt ceiling…

JT: Right.

HH: They end up delegitimizing the Republicans, but not delegitimizing the President, and I think that’s the wind at his back. Quick question, just very quick one. Dan Pfeiffer made a mistake today. He used the N word when he meant to use bigger.

JT: I saw that, yeah.

HH: If that had been Karl Rove, would the fallout have been significantly worse for Rove?

JT: Oh, probably, because people ascribe a whole bunch of racially-charged politics to Rove, fairly or unfairly.

HH: People or the media, Jake? People or the media, do you think?

JT: Well, you can’t separate the two, because a lot of the coverage is driven by the response of activists and voters.

HH: Oh, true. I’m looking forward to tonight. I look forward to every night. And I hope it doesn’t go long, but if it does, I’ll be watching every night at 11pm on CNN.

End of interview.

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