Tapp’d Out

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Like most kids born around the turn of the century, my political awakening arrived at the foot of Barack Obama’s first campaign and election to the American presidency. In what I would later learn was a characteristic of the weird relationship between Canadians and America, all the adults around me seemed deeply invested in the progress of the fight for the White House, and in its eventual outcome. CNN started to rival YTV as the most-watched channel in my house, and I often listened as my family’s dinner conversations pivoted to talks of nominations, conventions, debates and defeats.

It was in this environment that I stumbled across my first live streaming of a White House press briefing, which happened to be President Bush’s last. Held unceremoniously in the Press Briefing Room of the White House, it had an air of calm and reverence that made everything about it feel palpably rare. I abandoned the episode of Zoey 101 I had started and kept watching until the President called on a man named Jake in one of the front-most chairs.

The reporter postured himself in his chair, poised to ask the President what would be a somewhat unremarkable question, met with a forgettable answer. But, just before the routine began, it was Bush who interjected with a prompt. “So, Jake, are you gonna be here for President Obama?” Jake’s face relaxed as he put his free hand in his pocket. “I will,” he said, taking a fleeting moment, before careening forward again, to marvel at the fact that the President of the United States knew his name and cared where he was headed.

I would soon learn that the reporter’s last name was Tapper, that he worked as Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News, and later, for CNN. As the years went by, I stopped making notes of when I caught a screen with him inside, and started looking him up myself, watching him occasionally on his TV programs and reading odd pieces of his from administrations gone by. I liked his confidence, even though it occasionally bordered on arrogance; I liked his willingness to criticize both sides of a given debate; I liked his unyielding emphasis on accountability as much as I liked his handsome smile. Comprehensively, I was a fan.

‘I will,’ he said, taking a fleeting moment, before careening forward again, to marvel at the fact that the President of the United States knew his name and cared where he was headed.

And, perhaps more than his wit and his competence, the thing I most appreciated about Tapper for the bulk of my time following him was his reluctance to even have fans in the first place. I distinctly remember one radio interview he gave several years ago, in which he dismissed the White House Correspondents Dinner as “self-congratulatory” and obsequious, despite having won its prestigious Merriman Smith Award several times. With a focus on truth, he seemed to have no time for that sort of fanfare and pomp.

But that was Jake Tapper before Jake Tapper exploded. By the 2016 election, when more of America was consuming news on a regular, if not frantic, basis, I was joined by many, many other fans. Videos now surface daily with titles like, “Jake Tapper Destroys ___,” and his twitter following has climbed from a few tens of thousands into the millions. Tapper himself seems to be transitioning from widely respected journalist into mainstream star, and this second title, in my eyes, is undermining the first.

In the last year, I have watched my favourite reporter appear on nearly every late night talk show, as well as on “Ellen,” “The View,” and “Pod Save America”—on some shows more than once. On each program, his performance is formulaic. He emerges in a perfect suit, promotes his new fiction book, discusses whatever now-viral exchange he had with whatever representative of the Trump team had been circulated around the news networks in the preceding cycle, and seems to revel, alongside the host and the audience, in whatever ass he kicked.

The whole exchange might offer the catharsis that other Canadian and American followers of politics crave: a prominent reporter willing to publicly and comedically acknowledge the absurdity of his daily work. But, while I agree with Colbert’s and Kimmel’s and Meyers’ jokes, and with Jake’s conquering of whatever slippery pundit he had been delivered days before, having the two characters sit across from one another, soaking it all up together, leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Tapper himself seems to be transitioning from widely respected journalist into mainstream star, and this second title, in my eyes, is undermining the first

There is no additional fact-finding or holding of accountability that comes from basking in the glory of one’s prior achievements on another TV show. In fact, I find that all such appearances do is foster the perception of a journalist aligning himself with a wing of entertainment that promotes itself as something by—and for—individuals on the left of the political spectrum. It is the antithesis of the sort of stoic, devoted, unemotional journalism Tapper has always tried to establish as his trademark. For a guy who has declared, multiple times, that he does not vote in presidential elections for fear that it would compromise the neutrality of his reporting, shooting the breeze with comedians who are essentially paid to make jokes about Donald Trump and Republicans seems nonsensical.

Don’t get me wrong—I love when “Jake Tapper Destroys [insert name here].” I covet those videos just as much as the next left-winger. But, each time Tapper pays a visit to Late Night TV to rehash that week’s “accomplishments,” he offers people outside the more liberal audience the opportunity to conflate his work with entertainment. Rather than being the dutiful, understated journalist who asks tough questions and goes home at the end of the day, Tapper asks tough questions and then gloats about them later that night.

The echo-chambers of American politics are not only all-encompassing; they are also gilded. They are adorned with purple-hewn lights and adoring crowds, with book deals and merchandise, calling out from studio lots and craft service tables across the country. Resisting the allure of such settings is just one of the unending challenges that the TV journalists of our era must confront each time a video of their reporting goes viral. It is the challenge I have watched Jake Tapper, my Press Briefing Room obsession, weather in the past, and it is the one to which I am watching him succumb today.

At least for now, then, I think I can officially say that I am Tapp’d out.

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