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Jake Tapper On The First Week Of The Lead

Thursday, March 21, 2013

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HH: That exchange occurred just a couple of hours ago on The Lead with Jake Tapper on CNN, the brand new afternoon and early evening news show, or actually, late afternoon news show in the East – 4:00 in the East, 1:00 in the West. He joins me now. Jake Tapper, nice first week to get the Speaker in the middle of a controversy with the President.

JT: Yeah, well, that was serendipity. We’ve had some good luck. We had Mayor Bloomberg on Monday just as he was announcing a new attempt to regulate the health of New Yorkers having to do with cigarettes, and we had Marco Rubio and the White House Chief of Staff, Dennis McDonough on Tuesday, and Speaker Boehner today. We’ve had some good bookings.

HH: And tomorrow, Rick Santorum is going to come in and hold down the conservative cause. Now Jake Tapper, the Twitter lead, by the way, is @TheLeadCNN, or of course, they can follow you @jaketapper. Everyone’s scrutinizing your show. CNN is holding it out as the new brand. Does it feel any different from ABC?

JT: Yeah, quite a bit. Not necessarily because of anything having to do with CNN versus ABC, it’s just I’m anchoring a show, it’s an hour, it’s live. There are constantly all these moving parts. It’s a much more, you know, it’s funny. As a viewer of television, it always seems so much more calm and planned and arranged than it actually is behind the scenes, and so much more so with cable news. We had today, we had one of our guests was stuck on an Acela, and did not get to the studio in time. And luckily, this was happening at the same time that this other story was breaking from Bill Carter from the New York Times was reporting that the Tonight Show is moving to New York, that NBC is building a studio for Jimmy Fallon in New York City, and we were lucky enough to be able to get Bill Carter on the phone and be able to, you know, I don’t know if it looked seamless to the viewer, but it certainly looked a lot calmer than my heart was beating. But it’s fun. It’s live news.

HH: Jake Tapper, I did ten years of live news for KCET out here in L.A., the PBS station, and it’s a nightmare that people never see, and you don’t want them to see it. But congratulations on a great start. I’ve got to ask you about one story yesterday. I didn’t see The Lead yesterday, because at 1:00, I hadn’t gotten here. Most days, I’ll be able to see it before I do my show. You are now officially show prep. But Harry Reid went to the floor of the Senate and made remarks about the tragic loss of seven Marines, which would hit very close to you as the author of The Outpost. And then he segued to the sequestration. I played it live, and the phones went crazy, and people were angry. Did you get news of that in time to cover it on The Lead? And if so, what kind of editorial discussion goes into how to present that story?

JT: I did not know about it until after the show, and I mean, this is just, it’s going to sound like an excuse, but I did not know about it until after the show. I thought wow, that’s really, we should have mentioned that. We didn’t do a roundtable, political roundtable yesterday. We did a business roundtable. But it certainly was worth putting on air. Obviously, Harry Reid denies, his spokespeople deny that he was trying to link the disaster of that horrible tragedy to the sequester, but I hear, I mean, the remarks, it certainly sounds like that’s what he’s saying. We were going to use it today as the second item of discussion in our roundtable, but…and this is, as you know, this is just the perils of live television, we ended up getting into a discussion. We had Van Jones, Grover Norquist and Susan Page of USA Today, and we ended up getting in a discussion about guns. And it ended up being a good discussion, and I didn’t want to cut it off. And then by the time I wanted to go to Harry Reid, that was all the time for the segment. But I know it’s definitely a talker. Maybe we can work it in Thursday or Friday.

HH: Well, I’m just fascinated. I know it’s a great story, but I also know the pressures on you. I’m wondering if at CNN or if you, Jake Tapper, are worried about, you know, the CNN brand is perceived, and I have friends there. Candy’s been a guest many, many times, Wolf’s friend. It’s perceived, though, as left of center. Are you concerned about that as you begin The Lead? Most people, I think, across the political spectrum, have no idea where you are politically. They trust you as a journalist. You go after everyone. Are you worried about that kind of story selection issue early on in the establishment of The Lead as the go-to place in the afternoon?

JT: Well, I mean, I hope people know that I just want interesting stories. I don’t care who they make look bad. I happened not to know of the story yesterday. I certainly would have wanted it in our politics section. And you know…

HH: It just happened, sure.

JT: If I could go back and redo everything, knowing then what I know now, knowing that the guest wasn’t going to show up, I would have said let’s go longer, and we’ll ask this thing about Harry Reid because the guest isn’t…but you don’t have the luxury of that. I know that conservatives think of most media outlets as left of center. All I can tell you is it is my goal that whether there are people on the left or people on the right, they will watch the show just for news and engaging presentation on a whole variety of stories ranging from sports to international, and not without any thought about what my personal views are, because you know, I’m going to be challenging Dennis McDonough on drones, I’m going to be challenging him on Syria, I’m going to be challenging him on North Korea, and like, I just don’t think what I think on anything should matter beyond basic discretion, and that people shouldn’t know. I mean, that should just be part of the equation that people don’t know. They just think I’m going to ask some good questions.

HH: Now in your very first day, you had Geraghty the Indispensable on. We love Jim Geraghty, frequent guest. You had Tim Phillips of AFP. You had great conservatives. Are you trying to expand your Beltway list? I live out on the other side of the country, but I also look and I see on CNN the same, they’re good Republican conservative faces sometimes, but they’re the same ones. Are you trying to expand the list?

JT: Well, what we’re trying to do not just with guests but also with CNN people is we’re trying to make the show look different from the other shows on CNN. And so even though there are a lot of great people on CNN day in and day out, yeah, we’re trying to use people that aren’t necessarily on all the other shows. It’s interesting you bring up the first day. The panel we had was we wanted to talk about the RNC, the Republican National Committee’s self-described autopsy that came out on Monday, and we were talking about the panel, and my executive producer and I independently came to the conclusion let’s just have Republicans on. Like we know what Democrats are going to say about the RNC, and it’s valid, but for a story like this, and it’s valid for them to think that and say that and have a voice or whatever, but for a story like this, I am just really interested in what Republicans think about the RNC.

HH: Well, that’s a great call. That’s a great call. And I hope, Jake, that you can next get them to start re-airing The Lead at night so I can watch it on the West Coast when I go home. Jake Tapper, congratulations on The Lead, we’ll follow it @TheLeadCNN on Twitter, or @JakeTapper.

End of interview.

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