CNN’s Jake Tapper on the Clintons, His Sunday Show Debut, and ‘Bad Reporting’

By Mark Joyella 

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The bus shelter ads went up this week in Washington, reminding power brokers and politicos that this Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper takes over for Candy Crowley as host of the network’s public affairs show, State of the Union.

“We’re going to experiment,” Tapper said Friday in an interview with TVNewser. “We’re going to try a lot of different things. We’re going to have a lot of reporting, a lot of long interviews, a lot of thoughtful conversation. We have the freedom to experiment that other shows don’t have.”

The show that debuts Sunday will have familiar Sunday shows elements, including a panel (Bob Woodward, S.E. Cupp, Donna Brazile, and Dana Bash–just back from covering Jeb Bush‘s trip to Europe), but Tapper hopes he can find fresh ways to reach viewers who usually don’t sit at home watching TV on Sunday mornings.

“There is going to be a time in the next decade when more people are watching Sunday shows on their own schedules on their phones than live on television,” said Tapper, who is very active on social media, specifically Twitter. Tapper’s first national reporting job was online, at “Social media and the internet is a huge part of my journalism, and we’re going to figure out new ways to make it part of not only The Lead, but State of the Union.”

NBC’s Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd recently expressed frustration that his show’s performance, fairly or not, is judged by its ratings, not necessarily its content.

“I don’t think cable news has the same pressure,” Tapper said. “I know the pressures that Chuck feels and I sympathize. But I think one of the things that we’ll be able to do on State of the Union is not do fifteen topics and three minute interviews, but to go more in depth and have longer interviews with candidates and newsmakers, and also have the freedom to try new things and hear from new voices.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 12.17.10 PMThe first voice Sunday will be a very familiar one, former President Bill Clinton, who is very much in the news over questions about donations to the Clinton Foundation. In part of the interview released Thursday, Tapper pressed Clinton, who insisted donations made to the foundation while his wife was Secretary of State were not improper. “No one has ever asked me for anything, or any of that.”

Tapper’s exclusive did not come without questions. Media critics pounced on Tapper’s own participation at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Denver where the interview took place. Tapper was at first labeled a “speaker” at the CGI event, which CNN disputed. And in May, USA Today reported that Tapper might “find himself embroiled in controversy” over his participation in events at the CGI meeting.

Tapper tells TVNewser, however, he was never “scheduled” to be a speaker, or to moderate a forum, though many options were discussed as part of negotiations over the Clinton interview. “There was a negotiation that was going on between CGI and CNN. We were in the process and nothing was final. Ultimately, CNN and I felt that it was more appropriate for Poppy Harlow to do the panel and me to do the interview.” Tapper said any suggestion that his plans for the CGI meeting had “changed” after questions were raised by reporters was simply “bad reporting.”

“Because the Clinton Foundation is in the news, because of controversies about the foundation, and because Hillary is now officially a candidate, this all just kind of got magnified, but I think we have been transparent.”

Tapper believes his interview with Clinton will stand on its own, but he understands the questions. “There’s a lot of questioning of people in media, because of–without naming any one person–it’s not been a great year for some well-known people in journalism and their ethics.”

Tapper, who recently shared an anecdote about Hillary Clinton in a visit to Conan O’Brien‘s late-night show, said he’s at very low risk of embellishing his way into trouble. “I learned very, very early that I am a horrible liar. I’m the guy at the dinner table who’s fact-checking his own and his wife’s stories for the crowd. I’m that annoying guy.”