CNN anchor Jake Tapper appeared on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on Thursday to discuss his hardball interview with White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough on the poor treatment of some veterans at VA hospitals, and Hewitt raised Tapper’s book on our armed forces in Afghanistan, The Outpost.
But Tapper carefully dodged offering a guess or an opinion on whether his network would devote a lot of air time to hearings by the House select committee on Benghazi. (Hewitt didn't mention CNN, as well as MSNBC, avoided any live coverage of the last Benghazi hearings on May 1.) He suggested they might not be “serious” in nature:
HEWITT: Let me ask you this. It’s a straight news question. Do you think CNN will carry the Gowdy Committee hearings if not gavel to gavel, at least 50 percent of the time they are in session?
TAPPER: I have no idea.
HEWITT: What would your recommendation to management be?
JT: I’d have to see how serious they’re going to be. I mean, I’d have to see how serious, I mean, we tend not to cover hearings, any hearings, gavel to gavel, any hearings. I mean, there is a channel that does that, that is also on the cable dial. I doubt any channel is going to cover, I don’t think Fox News is going to cover the Gowdy hearings gavel to gavel. I really don’t.
That doesn’t mean that CNN or Fox or whoever is not going to cover them. I think that there’s a question about, first of all, how, we don’t even know if Democrats are going to be on this committee, first of all. Second of all, I don’t know, and I had Trey Gowdy on the show a week ago, Congressman Gowdy, I don’t know how serious and thorough these hearings are going to be. They might be perfectly serious and reasonable, and should merit a lot of coverage, or they might not. I don’t know.
To be fair, Tapper told Hewitt on May 2 that the White House had been “dissembling, obfuscating, and often insulting. So I mean, I don’t disagree with those who don’t care for what’s going on at the press conferences.”
Before that exchange, Hewitt and Tapper discussed the CNN host’s tough interview with McDonough:
HEWITT: Now Jake Tapper, did you really, did it cross your mind to call him on using of the term scars in the connection with wounded veterans?
TAPPER: No. I had, no. It didn’t occur to me until he just said it. But to be honest, I mean, you have so much time with individuals like this, and I really wanted to get to some of the substantive questions I had about warnings and incidents, and you know, the fact that the director of the VA hospital in Pittsburgh, there’s so little accountability in the VA, that even after an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the Pittsburgh VA hospital, that director was given a perfect performance review. It didn’t even mention the outbreak, and then the regional director given a bonus. And there were other more substantive questions. And obviously, he was speaking figuratively, and yeah, it’s…I was gearing up for something else.
HEWITT: I’m astonished. It’s so tin-eared, that I’m astonished. But I know your heart’s in the right place because of the Outpost. And I know you’ve been covering not only the Phoenix scandal at the VA, but the Austin scandal at the VA, and you just mentioned another one, the Fort Collins, Colorado, it’s all over the place. So when you asked him how many dead veterans do you need, had you preplanned that? Or was that spontaneous?
TAPPER: No, I mean, I was, you know, he had his talking points, and he had things he wanted to say, which is expected, that’s why politicians come on shows, and there’s a message they want to deliver. But I was getting frustrated, because you know, those of us who follow these issues, I mean, it’s not new the idea that there are problems in the VA system. And look, let me also just say, and I think I’ve said this on your show before, my mom used to work for the VA hospital in Philadelphia.
TAPPER: I know the system is full of hard-working individuals with the best of intentions, and provide quality care in a lot of instances. But there’s obviously some serious management problem. And so no, I didn’t have that planned at all. I just was frustrated, because you know, after a certain point, you become, you realize it’s great that Shinseki has made the accomplishments he has, and there’s been a reduction in backlog, and the other things that have been accomplished, and I don’t doubt that General Shinseki is somebody who wants to help veterans.
But at a certain point, if there’s accountability, you have to say well, there are dead veterans as a result of problems in the VA, problems that individuals responsible are not only not punished for, but in some instances, they’re rewarded regardless. And no, it was probably, you know, these issues sometimes get a little bit emotional for me because I’ve spent so much time with veterans and with gold star families, and maybe that was, I was getting a little…
HEWITT: It’s a fine question. I am now going to take that question and paraphrase it to you, though. You asked the White House Chief of Staff how many dead veterans do you need. I want to ask you, Jake Tapper, after Shinseki and the VA, the IRS and Lois Lerner, Benghazi and the Rhodes memo, Jay Carney telling Jon Karl the Rhodes memo wasn’t about Benghazi, Eric Holder in contempt over Fast & Furious, DOJ spying on journalists, the NSA failure to see Snowden walking out of the building with all of our secrets, after all of that, how many scandals does CNN need to call this a corrupt and failed administration?
TAPPER: I mean, you’ve just listed a whole bunch of different events and activities and scandals and controversies and the like that I don’t think are all comparable. I mean, I don’t think you can compare the Veterans’ Hospital scandal in Phoenix, for example, with what Jay Carney did with the Rhodes memo.
HEWITT: How about the failure to protect the Benghazi embassy, though? Americans died there as well. And when you talk about the Austin VA scandal, that’s a question of performance failures being rewarded, and it looks like Eric Holder is still the Attorney General, and he’s clearly the least accomplished, most failed attorney general in my lifetime. So yeah, there are a lot of different issues…
TAPPER: I mean, Hugh, I know you do this, but I’m a straight news reporter, and you’re offering an editorial opinion. And that’s not my job.