Opinion | Is Jake Tapper for Sale?

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kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher and you’re listening to Sway. My guest today is Jake Tapper, the CNN anchor and the network’s chief Washington correspondent. I wanted to talk to him about the past four years and what it means for the future of broadcast journalism. We’re also going to talk about Tapper’s novel, “The Devil May Dance.” It’s a thriller that takes readers to the Washington and Hollywood of the 1960s. And speaking of Hollywood, Tapper and I are chatting on the heels of some big media news, or potential news, that would affect CNN and its president Jeff Zucker, who is poised to leave the network at the end of this year. AT&T is currently trying to make a deal to spinoff CNN’s parent company, Warner Media. There’s a possible merger in the works with Discovery. The resulting media juggernaut would be headed up by Discovery chief David Zaslav and, so they say, would be worth more than $100 billion. So I started by asking Tapper, a newsman, what does this news mean for him and CNN?

jake tapper

OK. First of all, from a selfish point of view, if this means that Jeff Zucker stays at CNN longer or stays in the company longer.

kara swisher

Right. Which is a possibility.

jake tapper

Which is a possibility now because he has a really good, long relationship with David Zaslav, the head of Discovery, then that’s really good news for those of us who like working with Jeff Zucker, which includes me certainly. So two, I think just in terms of the survival of the company in this ever-changing world, Its good news because if we are teamed with Discovery, which is an incredibly strong brand, that’s great. That’s great news for CNN’s survival and for Warner Media’s survival. Because there are not going to be like 3,000 giant companies, it’s going to be like five or six giant companies and a lot of teeny ones.

kara swisher

Who do you think your actual competitors are? Because it’s certainly not Disney. It is tech companies, really,

jake tapper

Yeah, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. I don’t think that it’s going to last forever that these companies are not in the news space because it is compelling and you can’t only do binge-worthy dramas and sitcoms. What do you think?

kara swisher

I think that you’re all fighting with each other and they’re going to crush you. That’s what I think ultimately. I think they could wait you out, I think all these companies.

jake tapper

Who, Facebook and —

kara swisher

All of them, all the tech companies. And I think this moving around of parts, you can get bigger, you know that’s really the goal here. And a lot of people decry media consolidation but you’re small. I mean if a phone company couldn’t save you with all their money, and they have a lot of money.

jake tapper

Yeah, I mean I think the question is, what does that mean in terms of content? I’m on TikTok and all that, but at the same time, is Facebook going to just like keep using the content that media companies provide without paying for it? Or are they going to start doing their own original content? They obviously get a lot of free content that’s from, like, unreliable sources.

kara swisher

Yeah. Yes, they do.

jake tapper

I think there’s always going to be a market for reliable news organizations. I think that’s why The New York Times, which is not a giant company, will always continue to survive and thrive.

kara swisher

Yeah, as a small company. It’s kind of interesting to think about giant media. When I first started covering the internet, the media companies were ascendant and now they’re small and phone companies are small. I mean AT&T, your owner right now, stock has declined $10 since this deal. And it’s worth $200 billion, well Apple is worth $2 trillion.

jake tapper

But don’t you think at some point of these companies is going to buy, theoretically, so let’s say there’s this Warner Media-Discovery apparatus, don’t you think at some point Apple is going to buy something like that?

kara swisher

I think they’re going to buy Jake Tapper. They don’t need to buy it. I think it gets them into trouble from a regulatory point of view and they can buy Jake Tapper at some point. I don’t know if Jake Tapper is for sale, but is he? I’m not sure.

jake tapper

Well, I don’t, what do, I mean, how much you offering?

kara swisher

Oh, God! Everyone has a price, Jake. I don’t know. But when I interviewed your colleague, Don Lemon, we discussed the future news and he brought up the possibility of, quote, “a Don Lemon subscription network” in a decade. Do you see that as the future of news? The personality-driven news channels that are even more self-selected?

jake tapper

I mean Don and I do different things and primetime is different from late afternoon, early evening, which is when I’m on. And the show I’m doing right now from 4:00 to 6:00 Eastern every day, every weekday, is the show I want to do. And it relies on there being an international news network like CNN where Clarissa Ward, who’s an amazing reporter, or a Nima Elbagir, who is an amazing reporter, can go into Ethiopia and go into Myanmar and hand in to me an amazing 9-minute piece that we can air that would not air on World News Tonight or NBC Nightly News because it’s too long and too foreign.

kara swisher

So you’re talking about a news show.

jake tapper

Yeah.

kara swisher

You’re saying it’s much more news oriented and yet you’ve become a personality. I mean, not many people have an “SNL” skit done on them, obviously. How do you look at news changing? I think about it a lot. Like what is a brand and who is the person. I myself have had a career where it’s more about me than the news organization that I happen to be sitting at the time. Do you think that’s a good thing?

jake tapper

I see what the role I played from 2015 to now as more a manifestation of the deviation of the Republican Party and Donald Trump from normal political behavior then I do the deviation of me from normal broadcasting. I think Don’s show is different from mine. And Don’s a different person and Don’s in primetime and I’m not. So it’s called for different energies because people coming to primetime wanting something different than when they come to watch the news at 4:00 or 5:00. But I see my role as not being particularly opinionated except for things about which I think it’s fine to have an opinion such as truth and facts and just basic decency. But I’m not out there saying, this tax bill needs to be this or this particular legislation needs to pass. That’s not my style.

kara swisher

Yeah, you’re sort of talking about the emotionality of it. Don and I had an argument that, I thought he was too emotional in a lot of ways. But at the same time, you do a lot of work with your eyebrows, I have to say. I always know how you think by how you arch — I’m like, oh.

jake tapper

Well that’s just my face.

kara swisher

OK, that’ just my face. That’s your excuse? That’s just my face.

jake tapper

I mean I’m not purposefully doing it. And these faces that have become memes are not on purpose. They’re just authentically reactive to what’s going on. And I try to not do anything purposeful like that but sometimes it’s tough to not. I mean look, we can’t pretend the last four or five years have been normal in terms of the players and the people that we’ve been covering and what they’ve been saying and what they’ve been doing. I would like to go back to a time when we could just have more normal politicians come on. But the Republican Party has decided to pursue this path of lies. Not everybody in the Republican Party, but too many in the Republican Party. All three house leaders of the Republican Party where they’re just saying things that are not true, and The New York Times is adjusting its behavior accordingly as well. I mean you guys didn’t used to use the word ’“lie,” certainly not in headlines and now you do. But that’s not the times changing its style per se as much as it is The Times changing, necessarily adjusting, to a reality. If The Times had been covering Joe McCarthy in the ‘50s the way that it’s covering Donald Trump’s lies, who knows what would have happened.

kara swisher

Being more forceful or calling what is something.

jake tapper

Yeah and the first book, the first novel, I wrote was about the McCarthy era. And one of the things that’s very clear if you cover that era.

kara swisher

This is “The Hellfire Club.”

jake tapper

“The Hellfire Club,” yeah. One of the things that’s very clear about that era is that the news media didn’t know how to deal with it. The news media didn’t know how to deal with somebody who was just like making crap up. A United States Senator just making it up. And a whole bunch of people in the Senate, not just Republicans, by the way, kind of going along with it.

kara swisher

So in that case it snapped back to reality and it went back to normal, whatever normal is. Do you imagine that happening here when you’re thinking about delivering the news? I mean, I think everyone’s straining to get back to normal and you’ve gotten a respite with the very calm President Biden. We can have issues with him but they’re the more typical. Trump is off of Twitter, making noise all that every day of the week, which I’m sure drove a lot of news organizations crazy. Do you imagine it going back to normal? I think it’s going the other direction but that’s me.

jake tapper

I agree. To me it’s like the question about would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 10 duck-sized horses? I think we had a horse-sized duck in the Trump era and now we have 100 duck-sized horses. Now we have these little, mini Trumps, these little, mini liars.

kara swisher

And how’s that going when you’re covering it?

jake tapper

Well, I think it’s less of a direct, clear and present danger to the idea of facts and truth and more of a slow burn. But at the same time you look at what’s going on with House Republicans right now and the purge of Liz Cheney and the booing of Mitt Romney at the Utah Republican convention. I mean these are signs that the reality has changed and the whole zeitgeist on the Republican side is changing. Not that Liz Cheney is all of a sudden liberal or that Mitt Romney is all of a sudden some progressive. The reality has changed. And that’s why The Times and me and others, I think, have changed. And I think it’s important that we not go too far. I think it’s important that we say, these are the lines. And again, I don’t think anchors should have positions on policies per se, but I think we can have positions on hypocrisy and lies.

kara swisher

Which you did quite a bit, with the most famous being Kellyanne Conway when you did that. But can you spend your life doing that? Can that continue? Because it certainly works and they keep pushing the line.

jake tapper

Well first of all, I mean, talk about pushing the line. Kellyanne Conway did not lie about the election. Kellyanne Conway like in that world.

kara swisher

Now she’s OK. No I’m teasing.

jake tapper

Yeah, but you know what I mean? She didn’t go that far. She quit the Trump White House, she’s not out there spreading Trump election lies. Yeah, I mean this is something that I wrestle with every day which is why you’re hearing the struggle in my voice.

kara swisher

I like hearing the struggle. Go ahead.

jake tapper

Which is I have not booked, since the election, anyone who’s engaged in these lies. I just, I haven’t. It’s not a policy but it’s a philosophy where I just don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to deal and it really saddens me because there are Republican members of Congress with whom I respect, or formerly did. And there’s too many important things to deal with right now in terms of what’s going on in the Middle East or in Africa or in Myanmar or China or Russia. And, also, if you’re willing to lie about that, what else are you willing to lie about? And why should my viewers listen to you?

kara swisher

Yeah. Yeah. So who do you book? It’s dwindling. It’s a dwindling group of people.

jake tapper

Well, I mean there’s about a third of the House Republican caucus that I am willing to book. I could name them to you if you want.

kara swisher

So Kevin McCarthy? No.

jake tapper

I would not book Kevin McCarthy.

kara swisher

Steve.

jake tapper

No. Steve Scalise? I wouldn’t. Now if they came to me and said that they wanted to, I don’t think any of them, Scalise or McCarthy or Stefanik, have faced a tough interview at all about it. So I might be willing to interview one of them to talk about this, to talk about their election lies and what they’re doing. But I’m not asking for the interview and they’re not eager to do it, no.

kara swisher

Obviously Trump has created a lot of this. For some reason he has an unusual and charismatic hold and I want to talk about that because your books have a lot of those kind of characters. What do you blame? Do you blame social media? When you’re trying to cover the news and you’re watching this happen, this sort of mutation of truth, do you think, it’s Twitter? Oh, it’s Facebook? Oh, it’s cable news?

jake tapper

Well it starts with Trump, obviously. It starts with Trump. It starts with Trump and then the next group are the people that Trump faced in 2015, 2016 who weren’t willing to take him on until it was too late because they thought somebody else would do it. I remember moderating the debate in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library in 2015 and thinking, wow, none of them are really going to take him on. They have no idea. They have no idea. So the Jeb Bushes and the Marco Rubios and the Ted Cruzes and all them who just wouldn’t do it until it was too late. And then the Republican establishment to coalesce around him. And then the people in the news media who pretended, who went along to get along. I think a lot of people who interviewed Trump. I mean if you interviewed Trump while he was president and you did an interview that didn’t make any news, then you should not be a journalist. You should hang it up.

kara swisher

All right. So now, just to be fair, CNN has also come under heat for its coverage of Trump.

jake tapper

Sure. So has The New York Times.

kara swisher

Yes, indeed. But you were there from the jump. Here’s a clip of an early interview Donald Trump gave you even before he became Republican nominee in 2016.

jake tapper

Hillary Clinton was giving a speech. She had some very tough things to say about you. One of the things she said.

donald trump

She wasn’t giving, she was reading a speech that was written by other people, OK? But go ahead.

jake tapper

OK.

donald trump

Sound bites.

jake tapper

One of the things, one of the things she said was, “This is not someone who should have the nuclear codes. It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into war because someone got under his very thin skin.” What’s your response to that?

donald trump

Well, first of all, I don’t have thin skin. I have very strong, very thick skin. And when somebody is right about me, I always, you know, if you do a report and it’s not necessarily positive but you’re right, I never complain. I do complain when it’s a lie or when it’s wrong, but I have a strong temperament. And it’s a very good temperament.

kara swisher

How do you think about that?

jake tapper

I don’t even remember which one that was.

kara swisher

Yeah, yeah.

jake tapper

I will say this. When I look back on interviews that I did with him in 2015 and 2016 and then, by the way, we never got another one, nobody at CNN after 2016. I think that my interviews with him in that era are among the tougher TV interviews that he did. Not all of them but some of them certainly stand out. The one where I challenged him on his attacking Judge Curiel was racist et cetera.

kara swisher

That one you did talk about Judge Curiel.

jake tapper

Is that the Judge Curiel interview?

kara swisher

Yes.

jake tapper

So that’s the last interview I did with him. They wouldn’t let me interview him ever again. But that said, I’m not giving myself any pats on the back because I don’t think any of us were tough enough. I think the entire world was figuring out how to grapple with this phenomenon. Everybody — Republican candidates, the Republican establishment, the public, The New York Times, CNN, me, you. I mean, everyone, Maggie. I mean, everybody. And trying to figure out how to do it.

kara swisher

So you would conduct an interview differently today. it’s kind of interesting to wonder how one would conduct interview. By the way, in that interview the CNN ticker over it reads, Trump has thick skin. I love the people who do your tickers. What would you ask him right now?

jake tapper

Oh, my God.

kara swisher

First question. Besides, what is wrong with you?

jake tapper

Well, I don’t think he’s capable of answering that question, but I think I would come armed with all sorts of evidence and information about the election. And I think I would spend the entire time talking about the election, and talking about how he’s lying about the election. And here is the evidence, and here’s the proof, and here’s the Republican election official who supports what I’m saying in Arizona, and the Republican election official who reports what I’m saying from Philadelphia, and on and on and on and on. But at that point, you’re not really interviewing somebody, you’re trying to make a point to the American people about this person is lying and I have the evidence and all he has is bluster.

kara swisher

Yeah, I’d start asking about his parents, actually. That’s what I would ask him about.

jake tapper

Fred?

kara swisher

I would just completely ask about his parents.

jake tapper

Just to throw him? Or because you’re interested in the fact that his father didn’t give him the love he needed and therefore he ended up doing this.

kara swisher

I think there’s a whole lot of stuff there. I don’t know. That’s where I’d start because I think it might be an access point because right now it’s an impermeable wall of lies.

jake tapper

There are very few presidents we’ve had who didn’t have daddy issues one way or another. Biden, actually, is an exception to the daddy-issue rule.

kara swisher

[LAUGHING] The daddy-issue rule.

jake tapper

We’ll think about it. Trump, Trump’s dad didn’t give him the love he needed according to family members. Obama’s dad was absent, literally absent. Obama probably has mommy issues, too, because his mom was kind of a bohemian. And then George W. Bush, obviously, everything with his trying to live up to his dad’s example, trying to not make the same mistakes his dad made, quote-unquote, “mistakes.” I mean, really, the ones without father issues, daddy issues, are the exception.

kara swisher

All right. My last question about CNN, obviously, is going to be a Chris Cuomo question. And listen, let me just say, I know this is not your responsibility. I’m not responsible for everything New York Times reporters do, most of whom I don’t even know, right? That kind of thing. But let me just put it out. The CNN anchor recused himself from covering sexual harassment allegations against his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Now it’s been reported that Chris had been actively engaging with his brother’s staff on strategy calls about how the governor should handle these allegations. He told him to hang tough, essentially, et cetera. CNN has come out to say that Chris Cuomo’s participation was, quote, “inappropriate.” I completely agree with that. I was shocked I would have to say, I think it’s beyond inappropriate. But the anchor offered an on air apology to his colleagues. Is that enough for you? Is his apology enough and does it affect you?

jake tapper

Such a complicated issue. And obviously this is my company and my home and my workplace. And so, that said, I cannot imagine a world in which anybody in journalism thinks that that was appropriate. So I agree with that. And he said, Chris, in his apology that he delivered on air, said that he put us in a bad spot. And I would also agree with that. And then just as a last point I would say that I work very hard to be fair and to be ethical and to not cross lines. And I certainly understand the love that Chris has for his brother, and I have a brother and I get it. But that was not a fun day.

kara swisher

Yeah. Does it affect your work?

jake tapper

It doesn’t affect my work. Their work is not my work and my work is not their work. And yes, we all reflect on each other. But the only thing I have a role in, the only thing I have any control in, because I’m not management, right? I’m not the CNN Bureau Chief of DC, I don’t have a say in anything other than what airs on my show.

kara swisher

One of the things I’ve noticed about your show is you do have a lot of women on your show. CNN, I talked to Don about this, for being a bit of a boys club. And former anchor, Brooke Baldwin, pointed out the influence and salary of men over there. Do you think there needs to be more changes at home?

jake tapper

I think what Brooke said was wrong. I love Brooke, I’m a fan of Brooke, but I think what she said was just factually incorrect. I know a number of women anchors, Dana Bash, Abby Phillip, Kate Baldwin, Erin Burnett, Brianna Keilar, Alisyn Camerota, Ana Cabrera, I mean there’s so many. And I think to suggest that there aren’t it kind of —

kara swisher

That they don’t have influence.

jake tapper

It’s not true. And also there are a number, I mean, arguably Allison Gollust of communications is one of the most powerful and influential people at CNN. Women run a lot at CNN. In terms of my show, just because you touched on it, the only thing I’ll say is it’s very important to me, as a white man, to make sure that the show reflects the diversity of our nation. And I’m always telling my team, and they know this, and my team is incredibly diverse, that I don’t want any all-white men panels ever. Period. Done. I don’t want it. I don’t want it and it does happen, rarely.

I support my women colleagues mainly because they’re excellent. But yes, I also like supporting fixing the problems.

kara swisher

Does that include conservatives? Because, obviously, Rick Santorum gets endless shit, deservedly.

jake tapper

Yeah.

kara swisher

If you’re thinking about that. Now Fox has no illusions, they don’t do it at all. They just do whatever they please.

jake tapper

But “fair and balanced,” Kara.

kara swisher

[LAUGHING] Do you think about that?

jake tapper

Yes. Ideological diversity, too. Absolutely, ideological diversity. 100%.

kara swisher

How do you do that given —

jake tapper

I think it’s very important because most of this country, we need to reflect everybody, and this country is so divided in so many different ways, and we to have people represented. Now, that does not include liars, I don’t care about, there’s no truth diversity. People who tell the truth and people who lie, I mean I’m not willing to do that. But yeah, conservatives, absolutely.

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Warner Media CEO Jason Kilar you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Jake Tapper after the break. So what event right now is most like fiction? Is it Trump himself?

jake tapper

I think it’s the hold he has on the party. From Mar-a-Lago or now Bedminster, where he’s basically just golfing and then he’s got this little group of supporters around him who make a lot of money from their closeness to him and he just has this stranglehold and it’s entirely based on him.

kara swisher

And would that make for good fiction?

jake tapper

Yeah. So much of this past era has been, and I say this as somebody who dabbles in fiction and who has a lot of friends who write fiction, so much of this era has been so on-the-nose that you would get laughed out of a writer’s room. People would say, oh so, the president who’s already accused of being racist, calls Baltimore a shithole, and then it turns out his son-in-law is a slumlord in Baltimore. That’s a little much, right? That’s a little much for like “Law and Order: SVU,” much less reality. I mean that’s like, come on, that didn’t really happen. That couldn’t have happened.

kara swisher

Right.

jake tapper

Yes. No, that happened. That’s not even a major story of the Trump era.

kara swisher

And then bleach.

jake tapper

Oh, yeah, the bleaching and the doctors running around trying to figure out how to save lives while the president is giving advice that is contrary to what they’re saying. And meanwhile, they somehow got him to OK this money to help develop these lifesaving vaccines and ultimately he gets the coronavirus. And he is medevacked.

kara swisher

This is your next book.

jake tapper

But I mean you couldn’t write it. If I wrote it you’d be like, Jake, I found this book —

kara swisher

Come on.

jake tapper

A little heavy-handed. This scene where the president actually gets the coronavirus after defying all health orders and belittling the threat, and has to be medevacked to Walter Reed, and then you get the doctors to lie about how well he is. Don’t you think it’s a little?

kara swisher

Do you know, Elon Musk thinks it’s a simulation, and I do too at this point. That it’s a bunch of teens in the future trying to fuck with us.

jake tapper

Yeah, exactly. Like just seriously smoking bowls and like laughing. And now we’re going to make it, OK, so Trump goes away but like now we’re going to have 30 little mini-Trumps. [LAUGHTER]

kara swisher

Let’s talk about your book, “The Devil May Dance.” It’s a thriller. You’re not the only person in Washington who’s writing fiction. Hillary Clinton is coming out with a thriller this fall, I think Bill Clinton worked on a couple.

jake tapper

He’s got, with James Patterson.

kara swisher

James Patterson. Stacey Abrams has been writing novels under a pen name for this year.

jake tapper

She’s been writing fiction for a long time.

kara swisher

She has. This is a thriller, I think she’s writing, her next one. Bill O’Reilly, obviously, has done it. What’s going on? Is there is just too much reality for everyone in Washington? Does reality, Jake, I think you’re in the same era I am, does reality just bite?

jake tapper

I think, first of all, great film. I love that film, underrated film.

kara swisher

Very much so. Just so people who don’t know, because we’re super-old, is “Reality Bites” with Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. But go ahead.

jake tapper

For me, it’s just I wanted to be a screenwriter and a cartoonist out of college. And so this was something I wanted to do long before I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I went to film school after college. I went to University of Southern California.

kara swisher

What kind of films would you have made?

jake tapper

Somewhere in the genre, and please know that I do not think I’m anywhere near as talented, but somewhere between Noah Baumbach and Quentin Tarantino.

kara swisher

That’s an interesting space.

jake tapper

Some sort of smart, violent — so I toyed around with a lot of different fiction ideas over the years. And then in 2014, 2015 I finally sat down and figured out a way to do it.

kara swisher

So here you are though, setting this novel in Hollywood. The previous one was set in Washington during the McCarthy era. This book moves it very quickly to Hollywood during the Kennedy administration with a scene involving the Rat Pack. It opens in a graveyard.

jake tapper

It opens a Forrest Lawn Cemetery where Charlie and Margaret, my heroes, are running around with the Rat Pack.

kara swisher

What in this period did you find so fascinating?

jake tapper

Well the inspiration for the book came from the true story of the fact that after campaigning his heart out for President Kennedy, Frank Sinatra expected that Kennedy would stay with him during a presidential visit. Which isn’t so crazy. Senator Kennedy had stayed with him as a candidate so he had his Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs estate, his compound, built up to add rooms and phone lines. Meanwhile, attorney General Robert Kennedy was investigating and going after organized crime. And it came pretty clear that one of the people he was investigating, Sam Giancana, a major mobster in Chicago, was really good friends with Frank Sinatra. Legitimately good friends, hung out with Frank Sinatra. And so Robert Kennedy had this choice — do I offend one of the biggest stars on the planet who helped get my brother elected in a very narrow election? Or do I let my brother stay in a place where literally mobsters have slept while I’m actually going after the same mobsters? And that true story was, when I heard about it, I was like, oh, my God, I’m going to start my next novel in that scene because I’ll get to do the Kennedys and the Rat Pack and Hollywood and let’s see what else is going on during that era. It just seemed like a lot of fun terrain.

kara swisher

The fictitious New York congressman Charlie Marder is your central character and his wife, who’s a zoologist, Margaret. You describe him as an Eisenhower-Rockefeller Republican. Later in the book you call his father, Winston, a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. In the ‘80s we had Reagan Republicans, today we describe as Trump Republicans. Why did you pick this character to be this? To be this Eisenhower-Rockefeller Republican, the old Republicans?

jake tapper

You know, I thought it was important to make him a Republican because there was this, in that era, there was this school of moderate Republicans. Barely exists anymore but they were strong foreign policy, low taxes, smaller government Republicans. Eisenhower, Rockefeller, Thomas Dewey, who was the governor of New York. And they’re kind of, I wouldn’t say they’re extinct, but they’re certainly an endangered species. And I don’t know, I just felt like that would be first of all, to have a hero who was a Republican Congressman I thought was a fun idea. Second of all, I think it’s important, just as I try to build up conservative and Republican voices on my TV show who are —

kara swisher

You bring them into the book.

jake tapper

Yeah, but there’s a whole world of Republicans that I think are trashed by Democrats and to a degree trashed by the media. But I think it’s important for there to be a thriving Republican Party. And maybe Charlie is kind of like a wish of what more Republicans were like. Republican officials, I should say, not Republican voters.

kara swisher

He doesn’t like Bobby Kennedy but he sort of goes to Hollywood for Bobby Kennedy. We meet him early on in the book.

jake tapper

Yeah. He’s kind of blackmailed into doing it, but yeah.

kara swisher

Yeah, into doing it. But we don’t get an idealized version, a Camelot version, of the Kennedy administration, politics in general. We see a lot of deal cutting and arm twisting. Talk a little bit about how you created this idea that he’s going out to work for Bobby Kennedy in some fashion?

jake tapper

I like the later incarnation of Bobby Kennedy, the Bobby Kennedy of the late ‘60s. But that was not the Bobby Kennedy of the ‘50s and the early ‘60s when he was an operator and he worked on the McCarthy committee to root out communists. And John F Kennedy was not an outspoken anti-McCarthyite. And at this point in the Kennedy years, President Kennedy was cautious and Bobby Kennedy was the enforcer. And I mean look, on its face, you think about the idea that like how could this even be a question, is President Kennedy going to stay at the house were mobsters sleep. I mean think about that. That’s nuts. But the fact that this was even a debate gives you an idea of how morally compromised this world is which is the theme of the book. “The Devil May Dance” title is a fake Sinatra song that I wrote and the song is about dancing with the devil. It’s about the compromises you make when you deal with people who are shady.

kara swisher

So who is the devil in your book?

jake tapper

Well, it isn’t a spoiler alert, but the people who are willing to do anything, whether in media or whether in politics or whether in business. I mean, it has an effect on you and the question is, how much are you willing to dance with the devil?

kara swisher

I’m fascinated that you’ve added lyricist to your resume. Does your fiction writing aim to correct nostalgia that some people have for Washington in the past? Because there’s a lot of echoes going on here to the current year. I think nobody reading it can’t see that.

jake tapper

It’s not corrective so much as it is, because there isn’t anything that compares to this last year that we just live through. But it is corrective in the sense that nobody should idealize how awful it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s for women and for minority groups. I mean there’s some really slimy stuff that took place. Again, I don’t want to spoil the book, but anybody who knows anything about what the Kennedys were willing to do, and others, to get Fidel Castro are aware that there’s some very shady deals.

kara swisher

Right. Charlie’s wife, Margaret, I don’t want to leave her out, is a trained zoologist which makes for a good analyst of human animals, too. At one point the book she describes realizing how human boldface names really are first in Washington and Hollywood. And you write, quote, “Public images were as fragile as they were phony. ” Is this something that Hollywood and Washington share, the difference between perception and reality?

jake tapper

Yeah, it’s the same, right? It’s the complete same. People having these images of what they stand for or what they represent and if it’s not who you are, I think, today, maybe not back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but today it will be outed at some. One way or another. If you are Jerry Falwell Junior and your life is maybe not as pious as you would have it, it’s going to come out. And I think in this era, in the ‘60s it didn’t.

kara swisher

Reporters did that for Kennedy, for example, around his womanizing.

jake tapper

Yeah, they covered it all up. They covered it all up. So the point in the book was to kind of like show this without being preachy about it. But also just to show this is what was going on.

kara swisher

Yeah. This is a thriller. A lot of intrigue, a few dead bodies. Is this how you unwound during the 2020 campaign?

jake tapper

Not so much the dead bodies, but hanging out with the Rat Pack, yeah, it was a huge escape. Especially covering the pandemic was so bleak and awful. And obviously we’re still in it but at least we’re climbing out of it.

kara swisher

By the way, I unwind with Ally Love on the Peloton. So do your thing, Jake, it sounds great.

jake tapper

I love Ally Love. I’m more of a, the guy with the French name, what’s his name? Alex—

kara swisher

Alex Toussaint.

jake tapper

Alex Toussaint, yes, Toussaint.

kara swisher

So, I have three or four more questions. So in 2014, CNN hit a low in primetime viewership. By 2020, average primetime viewership had more than tripled. Now it’s gone back down, obviously, and it’s gone across the board, let’s be fair.

jake tapper

Yeah, for everybody. Digital subscriptions for The Times, Post, everyone, yeah.

kara swisher

How do you recover and what are the stories, then?

jake tapper

Yeah, people watched a lot of news. A lot of it was people who were terrified of what was happening to the country. And now I hear from some of them, they don’t watch as much because they’re not as worried. Obviously Trump’s fans also watched a lot and then don’t watch as much. So it’s not unusual for ratings to go down after an election year. And what I have found is, yes, ratings are not as high as they were, but there is still an audience, I, think that has discovered that they are news junkies. Whether it’s Times readers or CNN viewers or other media outlets.

kara swisher

How do you get people, though? People may be news junkies but they’re hopped up on adrenaline, really, like that’s really what it is.

jake tapper

You know, I think we lost the cotton-candy viewers, the people who just want the sugar high. I think they’re gone. And they’ll come back if they feel like there’s some other crisis but they’re living their lives and that’s OK. | think the people that we have now are people who want to know what matters. This is just my feeling based on social media and email and from viewers and that sort of thing. Like people who are now engaged, Trump got them engaged. Whether they like Trump or they don’t like Trump, Trump got them engaged, now they are invested in news and they want to know what’s going on. And whether that’s policing or January 6, or, I mean, look, the Trump story is not over. I mean there are investigations, you got new elections coming up in which the Republicans are in all likelihood going to take the House. That’s a story. You have an election liar who’s going to be Speaker of the House. And, by the way, you have Governor Cuomo. I mean that’s a story. Here’s a major American governor who is embroiled in several different scandals having to do with sexual harassment which he denies, we should say. Whether or not he fudged data on nursing home deaths, his $5 million book deal.

kara swisher

Yeah, it’s a lot of money. They’re never getting that back, by the way.

jake tapper

Oh, no, I think he sold like 40,000 books, which is fine. But for or $5 million book contract, that is not that fine.

kara swisher

That is not fine. So that. And you’re leaving bring out the special people who got —

jake tapper

And the allegations that’s being investigated right now of whether or not anybody, including his brother, got priority when it comes to testing.

kara swisher

And what about the Biden administration? I mean, one of the things, you did cover Donald Trump diligently and there’s lots to cover. there was all kinds of stuff going on. What do you and the network doing to ensure the same level of scrutiny for Joe Biden? Because it’s a little bit harder because it’s not quite as, you know, problematic.

jake tapper

Yeah, I mean there have been times that we’ve called him out, when they blocked the press from entering the facility for children in Texas. I said on TV, that’s not leveling with the American people, Mr President. I mean the US support for the hideous Saudi blockade of food getting into Yemen. We did reports on that. And we will continue to cover more. It’s early days for the Biden administration, we’re only 100 and something days.

kara swisher

Do you like Jennifer Psaki, by the way, speaking of Biden’s.

jake tapper

As a person?

kara swisher

I don’t know, I don’t know her. As a press secretary.

jake tapper

Yes. Sure. I mean, she’s a press secretary so she does what press secretaries do which is not answer questions and spin. But.

kara swisher

She’s certainly more entertaining.

jake tapper

Look, I mean, I know her because I started covering Obama in 2006, I don’t even know, 2005. So I met her in, I think, 2007. So I’ve known her for a long, long time and yeah, she’s a nice person. I mean, I like Dana Perino with Bush, I like Scott McClellan. There were this sort of level of basic decency with press secretaries that even if they don’t always give you all the information you need, are generally helpful people who are trying to get your questions answered and want you to say think things are nice but also understand your job is to hold the government accountable et cetera, et cetera. And what we had with Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Kayleigh McEnany was just —

kara swisher

Yeah. something else.

jake tapper

Aberrance.

kara swisher

Yeah. So one of the things that we talked about is how Trump has probably changed the news. CNN, of course, has been critiqued as fake news, polarized, leaning left. So can you imagine a world where it can retreat and be perceived and received as straight news?

jake tapper

Yes, I can. Although I have to say, we will never be free of criticism. Look, as somebody who was attacked from the left for years during the Obama years, and now that Trump is gone-ish, is attacked from the left again, quite often. So there will never be a time when CNN is not criticized is my only point. People come to journalism with their own views of the world. And we work to, if we’re good reporters, to remove the unfair biases. But that doesn’t mean we remove all sense of purpose and analysis and trying to find out what the facts are. And I think that journalists need to work to, every day, earn the trust of their readers or their viewers or their listeners. Every day. And listen to constructive criticism and tune out the noise. And it’s a journey, not a destination.

kara swisher

Yeah, I don’t know about that. I told my mother, who’s a Fox News watcher, I was interviewing you and she’s like, oh, he lies. CNN lies, not you. Not you, Jake Tapper, she likes you better. And of course she’s deep in the Fox News hole, so it’s really hard to pull her out. Do you imagine any redemption for them, too? Because they’re quite —

jake tapper

Fox?

kara swisher

Yeah. Because there’s some very good news reporters there, too.

jake tapper

Let me just say that I think Chris Wallace is good at his job. And I think that, I know that there are good journalists at Fox, reporters. But there is also a tremendous amount of not just opinion, because opinion is whatever, that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with there being a center left or center right channel or opinion shows. Is there anything wrong, empirically, with there being a conservative TV host or a liberal TV host sharing their opinions the way, for instance, let’s just say Rachel Maddow does? No, on a theoretical basis, no. The question is what about when they are trafficking in lies, like election lies, when they do not hold their guests to account for lies or defamation or nastiness? My concern is not that there is a center right network or a conservative network. My concern is that there is a network that shares misinformation, false information, and too often I think seems to be focused on attacking people, meanness, trolling.

kara swisher

I don’t know if you’ve noticed Facebook. Hate works, it really does. Enragement leads to engagement. It does.

jake tapper

Yes, of course, of course it does. But that’s like I remember when the evening newscast started getting softer and softer and softer and softer. And it was like everybody knew that you could get viewers that way, by showing kitten videos. But there was a sense of shame about it. Well now there is a shamelessness about it. And it’s not just cable, I mean I’m talking about what’s happening at network news, too. There is a degree to which shame has gone out the window and people are not like, well, I have this responsibility so let me tell you what’s going on in Syria. Which, by the way. I don’t think we need to be doing that 24/7, but on occasion. Or let’s talk about poverty in this country versus here’s some cotton candy and here’s a kitten video. Or, the flip side, here’s an enemy. Here’s a woman for you to hate. Here’s today’s woman for you to hate.

kara swisher

Well, maybe Rupert Murdoch would make an excellent fictional book character. Just a suggestion.

jake tapper

Too broad. Too broad.

kara swisher

I think you’d do an excellent job with him. I think he is one of the most dangerous people on the planet.

jake tapper

But can I just say something? The other thing about the Murdochs, just Lachlan and Rupert, is they are in glasshouses, right? They have their own lives and all that stuff and I don’t cover it. It’s not my business. I could do a whole show about how evil, I could do it every day, about how evil Rupert Murdoch is. And I’m sure, by the way, it would boost my ratings. But that’s not what my gig is.

kara swisher

So what is your what is your next book on?

jake tapper

The third book in the series will be in the ‘70s and it will be the son, Charlie and Margaret will also be in the book. We got the Reagan era after that if people keep reading them. Reagan era after that and then the Clinton years after that. And then the Bush years.

kara swisher

And then old man Jake Tapper will be writing about Trump.

jake tapper

Right. By then maybe he’ll be heroic, he’ll be the heroic character.

kara swisher

Oh, I don’t think so, Jake. I’m going to give you that.

jake tapper

President McCarthy will pass a law.

kara swisher

President Marjorie Greene, perhaps.

jake tapper

Right. Exactly.

kara swisher

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

jake tapper

That’s good.

kara swisher

OK, but it doesn’t matter because you’ll be working for Apple or TikTok news. So, there you have it. That’s how it’s going to go. They’re going to buy Jake Tapper, just so you know.

jake tapper

All right.

kara swisher

OK, OK.

jake tapper

I’m just waiting for, what’s the offer? That’s the question.

kara swisher

I don’t know what it is but they have a lot of money. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. “Sway” a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Daphne Chen. Edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Schuman. With original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Eric Gomez, and fact checking by Kate Sinclair and Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, and Liriel Higa. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts so follow this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you, along with an apology from Chris Cuomo and a murder mystery TikTok collaboration with Jake Tapper, download any podcast app and search for “Sway” and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

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