ABC's Jake Tapper Laments Some Producers 'Root' for Obama in News Coverage

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz profiled ABC White House reporter Jake Tapper on Monday, who has stood out a bit for suggesting his colleagues are too soft:

Tapper, who has already clashed publicly with press secretary Robert Gibbs, has been outspoken in his view that many in the media have been too soft on Barack Obama.

"Certain networks, newspapers and magazines leaned on the scales a little bit," he says over a vanilla latte at Starbucks. Obama's attractive qualities, he says, have prompted some editors and producers "to root for him."

Some? Or most, or almost all? Hillary’s apparently not a Tapper fan:

Politicians enjoy poking him back. When Tapper recently bumped into Hillary Clinton and asked which of her titles over the years was her favorite, she said: "I prefer any of them to what we call you when you're not around."

Kurtz reported that Tapper drew protests by liberals by having the audacity to list examples where Barack Obama didn’t seem so politically adept on patriotism:

Tapper doesn't shout questions, but he can be direct. During the Democratic primaries, Tapper asked Obama about what he called "an attempt by conservatives and Republicans to paint you as unpatriotic." He rattled off examples: "That you didn't put your hand over your heart during the national anthem, that you no longer wear an American flag on your lapel pin, that you met with some former members of the Weather Underground, and now they are questioning your wife's comments when she said she hasn't been proud of the U.S. until just recently."

Some liberals were not pleased. "I get a lot of heat from the left, which is bizarre," Tapper says, given that many conservatives regard him as a "left-wing stooge" for having previously worked for Salon. "I get a lot of heat from the right, too, but the vitriol is from the left."

Kurtz also described how Tapper revolved into the media from some liberal political jobs.

A Philadelphia native who describes himself as the son of " '60s hippies" -- a pediatrician and a psychiatric nurse -- Tapper graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy before heading to Dartmouth. He was a garden-variety liberal in college, sporting an earring and a ponytail....After a semester at the University of Southern California's film school, he became the spokesman for a family friend, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, during her successful 1992 campaign for a House seat. Tapper worked for the Democratic congresswoman on the Hill, but "didn't like being in politics, and I wasn't particularly good at it."

...In 1998, while working for the group Handgun Control, Tapper was pondering an offer from Washington City Paper when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. This was of more than passing interest to Tapper, who weeks earlier had gone on a date with the suddenly notorious White House intern. He turned that brief encounter into a cover story -- and a job -- at City Paper.

"I feel bad for poor Monica and feel unclean adding my feeble barnacle to her ship of fame. . . . That said, let the whoring begin," he wrote.

"To be brutally honest, I got with her because I figured that behind her initial aggressiveness lurked an easy, perhaps winning, bit of no-frills hookup," he wrote, but he dropped her off after their dinner with "a very innocent goodbye."

Not even Clinton succeeded in a "no-frills hookup" with Lewinsky, if we must use that callous casual-sex phrasing. From there, Kurtz suggests that when he joined the Clinton-loving, conservative-hating Salon website in the late 1990s, he wasn’t as left-wing as the editors wanted:

There were other kinds of clashes as well. "Sometimes he wasn't as liberal as his San Francisco editors wanted him to be," Walsh says. "He wasn't ideological. Other people wanted him to go more in the direction of hitting Republicans harder."

That was true during the endless bus rides of John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. Tapper occasionally wrote critical stories -- one involved McCain referring to his Vietnamese captors as "gooks" -- but also reveled in the bantering atmosphere.

"Jake is a very good reporter, and fun to be around," says longtime McCain adviser Mark Salter. "There were plenty of times I got a little vexed with him. But you always knew he was an equal-opportunity reporter. We'd argue -- sometimes on the telephone, usually in a long chain of e-mails -- and if you made a good point he'd recognize it. You knew he never came with an agenda."

Tapper was less enamored of candidate George W. Bush, writing about "the media curiously refusing to shine a light on the things Bush doesn't seem to know or understand. . . . He's been spoiled by a press corps that has generally been intimidated or lazy or fawning." Tapper decided after that campaign to underline his neutrality by no longer voting in presidential elections.

He soon branched out, writing a book on the Florida recount and becoming a presence on cable news. He co-hosted a Saturday night show on CNN called "Take Five" and did a stint as a reporter for VH1.

Kurtz didn’t offer the title of the Florida-recount book: "Down & Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency." He didn’t offer any spicy liberal passages. On page 11, he tells of blacks turning out to vote against George W. Bush:

And not just Bush – and his Bob Jones University-visiting, Confederate flag-waving, itchy-death-row-trigger-finger-wiggling, South Carolina-racist-pandering cracker Texas ass. But also his brother Jeb – whom many NAACP officials call "Jeb Crow" – as well as Poppy Bush, whose aides bragged in 1988 that they would make black murderer Willie Horton seem like Gov. Mike Dukakis’s running mate when it was all said and done.

It is this record – as a liberal partisan – that ABC accepted by hiring him. Peter Jennings didn’t go easy on him when he was a rookie:

When Tapper made it to ABC, Peter Jennings was among those who tutored him. "Peter was an exacting guy," Tapper recalls. "He offered tips in his inimitable style." These included sartorial criticisms, with Jennings once telling Tapper: "That's an unusually elegant tie for you."

During the same period, Tapper made the gossip columns by dating Kate Shindle, a former Miss America. The romance didn't last, and during the 2004 campaign he met his future wife, Jennifer Brown, a field coordinator for Planned Parenthood. They now have a 18-month-old daughter, Alice.

Kurtz says pictures of Alice are posted all over Tapper’s Facebook page.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis