Jake Tapper Leaps From the D.C. Beat to the Anchor’s Chair

Taking charge, his goal is to build TV's ‘front page’


Who Jake Tapper

New gig Anchor, chief Washington, D.C., correspondent, CNN

Old gig Senior national political correspondent, ABC News

Twitter @jaketapper

Age 45

I know being a beat reporter is a lot of fun—do you miss any of that now that you’re an anchor?

Well, you get to do the big interviews, which is fun—that’s a big bonus of being an anchor. You also get to control what you’re covering. And there might be something I want to cover—someone who isn’t a big name, necessarily, whom I really want to cover, and I can.

So what does your mandate look like now that you’re in charge? What’s your focus?

We’ve covered a lot of stories having to do with veterans; we’ve covered a lot of stories to do with mental health in the wake of Newtown. The gun debate gets a lot of attention. My nature as a news consumer is that I’m interested in a bunch of topics. One of the best moments I have every morning is if I get a copy of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and there are six stories I really want to read. That’s kind of the conceit of the show: have an exciting front page.

How does that news-gathering operation work beyond your reading the Times and the Journal?

We have a staff of 20-25 smart people who are like me and have varied interests. Everybody’s constantly pitching stories. It’s a constant stream of “Hey, have you seen that, have you seen this?” [A few months ago], Seth Rogen was testifying on Capitol Hill about Alzheimer’s. He complained very publicly about the sparse attendance by senators. and then he got into a back and forth with one senator about it. And I tweeted him: “Hey, Seth, come on my show, talk about the Alzheimer’s research needs, and name the names of the senators that didn’t show up.”

You were saying veterans are a big part of your show, too.

We’re constantly looking for ways to tell stories about soldiers and veterans. That’s me—I wrote a book about Afghanistan [The Outpost], and it really just opened my eyes to the 1 percent of the country who are fighting for the other 99 percent of us. The other day we interviewed a soldier—we were interested because President Obama was talking about zero option in Afghanistan; having no troops there. [But I also] wanted to talk to him about Ramadi—what his feelings were about having fought there, and having lost friends.

From your perspective, what topics or themes should be getting more airtime?

Drones don’t get a huge amount of coverage; we cover them. The surveillance programs we cover a lot. We’re covering senate primaries, which is fun for political junkies like me. The show airs right as the bell rings—so [we also talk about] Jack Dorsey from Twitter or Elon Musk.

A lot has been said about CNN’s decision to steer clear of an all-encompassing political perspective. What do you think?

I don’t have a political agenda—I don’t think that one side or the other is right. My default is to challenge people who are in power or seeking power.

Yes, but what do you personally believe?

I don’t believe in inefficient government; I don’t believe in wasting money, but I don’t assume that people come to my show because they want to see their worldview affirmed. We have conservative guests on—we’ve had Hugh Hewitt, Mark Levin, we’ve had Sarah Palin, we’ve had Dick Cheney. We’ve also had Julian Assange, Bill Maher, President Obama—we’re not looking to reaffirm anything. We’re looking to have a cafeteria of ideas.

Photo: Elimeir Kaplan