The 2017 Southern California Journalism Awards President’s Award winner has critics among Republicans and Democrats alike, showing his tough brand of journalism is fair to both – but don’t call him courageous
This evening at the Los Angeles Press Club’s Southern California Journalism Awards, CNN’s outstanding news anchor will receive a prestigious award. The following article appears in today’s awards program which is being presented to attendees in the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. For more on the awards go to www.LAPressClub.org.
VP MIKE PENCE BOYCOTTING THE LEAD SPEAKS TO TAPPER'S INTEGRITY
A month after Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 Presidential election, then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence appeared on CNN’s popular news show, The Lead with Jake Tapper.
Tapper asked him why General Michael Flynn, the nominee to head the National Security Agency, sought a national security clearance for his son, a conspiracy theorist who was behind a bizarre, fake news story about a D.C. pizzeria being a front for a Hillary Clinton pedophilia ring.
As a result of those rumors, on the day before Pence spoke to Tapper, a man with two rifles had burst into the pizza parlor and threatened employees. The gunman was later sentenced to four years in prison.
Tapper wanted to know: Did Pence, who headed the Trump transition, know Flynn wanted security clearance for son?
Instead of answering, Pence equivocated, telling Tapper “how grateful and honored” he and Trump were to have Flynn (who was later fired for lying to Pence and implicated in the Russian/Trump 2016 election scandal).
Pence shifted topics but Tapper kept coming back to the same question – nine times in four and a half minutes. Pence just repeated that Flynn’s son was no longer on the transition team and they were going to make America great again.
That was the last - and only time - Pence was on The Lead With Jake Tapper. The Veep has since refused to be on his Sunday morning newsmaker show, State of the Union, even when otherwise making the rounds on competitors like Meet The Press.
WHAT MADE PENCE MAD PROVES TAPPER IS RIGHT
“He was protesting the fact I had stood up for trying to get an answer to the question about something that was empirically shocking,” says Tapper, adding: “It’s not pleasant to be disliked but if you feel like you’re standing up for the right thing, I think it is important.”
It is standing up for what is right and being a journalist who will not take pat answers from the powerful, rich and connected, that has made Tapper stand out, especially in the Trump era.
WHY TAPPER IS BEING HONORED BY THE LOS ANGELES PRESS CLUB
That is why the Los Angeles Press Club is awarding Tapper the prestigious 2017 President’s Award. “During a divisive election,” says NBC4 anchor/reporter and L.A. Press Club President Robert Kovacik, “Jake Tapper was willing to take on politicians from both sides of the aisle. His effective interview style cuts to the core.”
Rising ratings are one sign of Tapper’s success across six hours a week of CNN programming beaming worldwide - but the surest sign he is an impartial journalist is that he is equally disliked by politicians from both parties.
President Obama felt Tapper was too tough on him; and Hillary Clinton was blunt when the anchor ran into her after she became Secretary of State.
Tapper had asked Clinton if he should refer to her as ‘Madame First Lady’ or ‘Madame Secretary’? “She said either one is preferable to what we call you when you’re not around,” recalls Tapper. “That kind of burned.”
Tapper in his CNN office
After growing up in Philadelphia (his father was a pediatrician, his mother a nurse), Tapper began his journalism career at Dartmouth as cartoonist for the school paper, skewering a range of topics.
He tried film school at USC but dropped out, worked in public relations, helped the group Handgun Control and began freelance writing with an article about dating Monica Lewinsky (once).
HE TOOK A PAY CUT TO BECOME A REAL JOURNALIST
Then he took a salary cut to join the Washington City Paper to pursue his passion, covering politics.
His editor there, the late David Carr, later a star NY Times reporter, became Tapper’s mentor: “I learned at his knee. He was tough but great. I remember every criticism.”
He spent a year working for the online magazine Slate, covering the presidential campaigns of John McCain and George W. Bush. Tapper wrote a book about the Florida recount in 2000, which led him to appearances and part-time work on CNN and VH1.
He was hired by ABC, where he got his big break covering Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful run for Governor in the 2003 California recall election. That got Tapper air time on Good Morning America, World News Tonight and Nightline, and public notice.
Tapper found time to write The Outpost, a critically acclaimed book about the war in Afghanistan, and soon was the ABC White House correspondent. He got married (and has two children).
He married Jennifer Marie Brown in Kansas City in 2006 (with him here:).
Shortly after Jeff Zucker became CEO of CNN in 2013, his first hire was Tapper. A year later Medialite.com put The Lead With Jake Tapper at number one on its list of top cable TV news shows.
Zucker calls Tapper’s coverage of the 2016 election, “truly remarkable,” adding: “He has an intense curiosity about the world, a profound desire to take advantage of every opportunity to demand answers and truth, a sharp mind and very quick wit. His reporting and interviews cut through in a unique way.”
BEING TOUGH ON TRUMP IS GOOD FOR CNN'S RATINGS
Covering Trump’s presidency has pushed Tapper’s profile to a new level. “When there is such distain coming from the most powerful man in the world for empirical facts and empirical truth, “says Tapper, “and when the president of the United States makes it his mission to undermine the Fourth Estate, calling reporters the enemy of the American people, that is quite a challenge.”
That is aggravated by the rise of conservative news outlets led by arch competitor Fox News.
“You are seeing actual purveyors of fake news, such as those in the alt right, encouraged,” laments Tapper. “It is all part of this attempt to undermine facts and truth, so Trump supports only media outlets he believes are in his favor.”
How has Tapper responded? “I have a responsibility to deliver facts and the truth to the public and my viewers, “says Tapper. “I can’t worry about people who believe falsehoods, and see the world in a topsy turvy way. I just have to make sure my facts are correct and what I am presenting is the truth - because at the end of the day, the truth always wins out.”
BUT DON'T CALL HIM COURAGEOUS
Tapper has been heralded as courageous, but he shakes that off: “’Courageous’ is Navy Seals going into Yemen and trying to kill terrorists…What I do takes a certain degree of assuredness and requires that you feel you are on stable, moral, non-partisan, non-ideological ground, but I would never use the word courage.”
He does sense its having an impact. “I have met a lot of young people who are now inspired to be journalists,” says Tapper. “This is a time for us to rise to the moment, when journalism is under attack rhetorically at home and literally abroad, and be worthy of the [first] amendment that protects us.”