Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

CNN's rising star started here

"DISSECTING MY tweets with Talmudic meticulousness will result in wrong conclusions," warns Jake Tapper in a Twitter profile that's just one thing setting the Queen Village- and Merion-raised CNN anchor apart in a field where nuance is often the first casualty.

Tapper, 45, joined CNN in January 2013 from ABC, where he'd most recently covered the White House. His weekday show, "The Lead," is on at 4 p.m., but we may soon see more of him in prime time: He's reportedly in the running - along with Philly's Michael Smerconish, NBC10 alum Don Lemon and Bill Weir - for the 9 p.m. slot being vacated by Piers Morgan.

He spoke with Ellen Gray about how starting his journalism career at the Washington City Paper and Salon influenced him, how he uses Twitter and what led him to write his most recent book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, about a remote U.S. military base in Afghanistan and the men who lived and died trying to defend it.

Q You started out in the alternative press. What does that give you that somebody else might not have?

Beyond alternative press is the idea of being from something other than TV. This is a gross generalization, but I find some of the best TV people are people that started in journalism, print or radio, and then ended up going into TV - because they liked journalism, and they found that broadcast journalism was the best way to do journalism, as opposed to a lot of people who I think are in TV journalism because they want to be on TV.

Q Is TV the best way to do journalism?

It can be very, very effective. Especially when there's a breaking news story.

Q And your alternative press background?

It's more of the kind of attitude of press of yore. You know, the always challenging people in

authority.

Q How many papers are you reading a day?

I read three - the [Washington] Post, the [New York] Times and the [Wall Street] Journal. But that's not where I get my news. I go on Twitter, and people are sending out amazing stories from all over. I think I heard about the [Kermit] Gosnell story first from Twitter. It's my aggregator.

Q You and CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker started about the same time. What did he tell you about what he wanted to do with the network?

He wanted to cover the news, and wanted to be first, and he wanted it to be a broad palette of what news is. And I had had this vision for what I wanted my show to be.

If you imagine a great broadsheet newspaper front page, and here's a story about money and here's a story about politics, and here's national and pop culture, sports, world - [all] big enough to be on the front page. You're excited to read each one. And it was the same sensibility he had, which was you can do all of it. People care about pop culture. It doesn't have to be vacuous, idiotic.

Q How did you come to write a book about Afghanistan while covering the White House?

I was in the hospital [in October 2009] with my wife, who'd just had our son. We have a little girl and a little boy. I was holding my son and watching the news when this came on [about a lopsided battle at a remote outpost at the base of three mountains]. And it was this story of why were they put in this place, and I hear about these eight sons taken from this earth and I'm holding my son.

I went to Afghanistan twice. I interviewed 225 people, and got videos and photographs. It became like a story I needed to tell.

Q Does the show give you an outlet for stories like that?

Yep. That's one of the greatest things. I cover it all the time. Two of the guys in the book, since it came out, have been awarded the Medal of Honor, and Jeff has let me do hourlong documentaries on them that ran in prime time on CNN. And I talk about veterans issues a lot, and I cover the war as much as I can.

Yeah, I have control. It's not just, "We want you to do a minute-30 on what President Obama did today." It's, "What can we cover today?"

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