Jake Tapper fuels GOP bashing in primetime despite CNN’s newfound mission towards nonpartisanship
Since being named the new president of CNN, Chris Licht has been vocal about his ambition of shifting the network away from being anti-Trump TV in order to restore the journalistic credibility CNN once had.
At first, his personnel and programming changes seemed to signal his seriousness. Licht fired Brian Stelter, Jeffrey Toobin and John Harwood, all three were known for their hostile commentary towards former President Trump. He then yanked uber-liberal anchor Don Lemon from primetime and demoted him to a soon-to-be-revamped morning show (he denies he was demoted) alongside Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, replacing “New Day” co-host John Berman and Brianna Keilar (both will find new roles at the network). Like Lemon, Keilar became one of CNN’s biggest critics of Republicans with her viral “Roll The Tape” segments which almost never targeted Democrats.
The network boss tapped CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota and analyst Laura Coates to co-host Lemon’s old two-hour time slot on weeknights at least through the midterms. CNN also announced this week that it hired The Reload founder and firearms expert Stephen Gutowski as part of the network’s new “Guns in America” beat, a move that was widely praised by conservatives.
Licht’s biggest gamble, however, was his choice to fill the 9 p.m. ET time slot, which had been vacant since the firing of CNN’s most-watched host, Chris Cuomo, in December 2021.
His pick: Jake Tapper.
Tapper, who had anchored the daytime program “The Lead” for nearly ten years, is reportedly seen by Licht as someone he wants as the “new face” of CNN. Tapper benefits from his high profile at the network following his moderator duties at presidential primary debates in the 2016 and 2020 election cycles as well as the Parkland town hall in 2018. He also spearheaded the network’s Russia investigation coverage.
During the Trump years, Tapper wasn’t nearly as bombastic as his colleagues like Lemon and Keilar, but he was arguably just as partisan. In 2019, he accused Trump of being a “spokesman for the Kremlin” for appearing to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin against claims being made by his own administration. In 2020, he retweeted Trump critic George Conway who called Trump “100% insane” and shamed the president for getting COVID, calling it a “symbol of his own failures.” When Trump was officially defeated in the 2020 election, Tapper declared the “long national nightmare is over.”
Since Biden took office, Tapper doubled down on his animosity towards Trump and even expanded it to a large swath of the Republican Party, waging war on GOP lawmakers who challenged the results of the 2020 election and banning such “election deniers” from his CNN programs despite making exceptions for Democrats like Stacey Abrams, who famously did not concede her 2018 defeat in the Georgia gubernatorial race against Brian Kemp. Earlier this month, he suggested Republicans who say Big Tech “rigged” the 2020 election for suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story are “more cynical” than full-on election deniers.
But perhaps with the primetime job promotion, which CNN has said is also temporary through the midterms though reports say Licht wants Tapper in the time slot permanently, it would be an opportunity for the anchor to start fresh and champion his new boss’s vision of making CNN a nonpartisan network by appealing to viewers of all political stripes, not just Democrats.
So far, it appears no pivot has taken place.
“Unhinged lies born from Donald Trump’s grievance that he lost and his refusal to accept reality… this anti-democracy insanity- it has already infiltrated the same halls of Capitol Hill where the rioters once stood… all of this leaves you, the voter, in sort of an impossible position. You should be able to walk into that voting booth and vote on issues that affect your life like the economy or crime or education or health care. But now, in too many races, instead of asking yourself, ‘what can this candidate do for me and my community and my children in the next two years?’ You now also have to ask, ‘hey, does this candidate believe in democracy?’” Tapper said in his second primetime broadcast while lambasting “election deniers” running for office.
On the Oct. 12 broadcast, Tapper plugged the Jan. 6 Committee’s upcoming final hearing, calling it “one last chance to try to convince rational Americans about the dangers of the anti-democracy movement” ahead of the midterms.
Fox News Digital reviewed the first eight installments of Tapper’s new program, titled “CNN Tonight with Jake Tapper.”
Tapper had a splashy debut Oct. 11 which included an exclusive sit-down with President Biden, granting the CNN anchor his fourth televised interview so far in 2022.
Critics panned the softball interview, which made so little news that it virtually received zero coverage on the five Sunday shows that weekend, including CNN’s “State of the Union.” Perhaps it’s because of the questions he asked the president like the one pertaining to the potential charges the president’s son Hunter may face as the Washington Post reported that federal agents say they have “substantial evidence” against him for various crimes.
“Personally and politically, how do you react to that?” Tapper simply asked Biden.
Tapper failed to grill the president about whether he’d consider pardoning his own son or probe whether he was involved in Hunter’s shady business dealings overseas. The question follows Tapper’s underwhelming coverage of the Hunter Biden scandal, which he himself dismissed during the 2020 election.
Despite landing Biden as well as movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tapper’s premiere couldn’t reach a seven-digit audience, receiving just 854,000 total viewers, a distant third behind the 2.6 million viewers “Hannity” received on Fox News and the 1.6 million “Alex Wagner Tonight” received on MSNBC.
The show typically begins with Tapper giving a 12-minute monologue that involves elaborate choreography as he tours the set going from screen to screen and turning to different cameras. The monologues have included cheesy sound effects from a soundboard, references to rappers like Humpty Hump and Salt-N-Pepa and even an attempt at a Russian accent as he read a quote from Vladimir Putin.
In his lecture following the Jan. 6 hearing, Tapper said Trump of “loved” and “embraced” the “imagery of violence and brutality” and that he “relished the idea of real violence” based on the former president’s behavior over the years.
“And now we must confront the case being made by the committee that the violence on January 6 was not just an unfortunate happenstance, that it was part of the plan, that it is now a Trump tactic,” Tapper said Oct. 13.
He later warned his viewers, “I’d love to tell you there’s no reason to be worried. But after today, after all these hearings, it is clearer than ever that the threat is real, the danger remains, and that January 6 might someday soon end up looking like a dress rehearsal.”
The next evening, Tapper gave a lecture about how political scandals have changes over the years, highlighting how the term “took on a whole new meaning” with “Telfon Don,” telling viewers there were “so many calamities, I do not have time to go into them all in this hour.”
Tapper later suggested Georgia hopeful Herschel Walker was too “immoral” to be elected senator following accusations that the GOP candidate paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 despite his staunch pro-life stance.
“We’re all flawed. We all have the capacity to grow and change or not. But if a candidate is proudly, nakedly, hideously amoral or immoral before taking office, what makes you think that getting control to the levers of power is going to bring out anything other than more of the same if not worse? What makes you think they’re going to do anything for the United States or the least among us, for you? I mean, you cannot shame the shameless,” Tapper said last Friday.
Not mentioned on Tapper’s program was the scandal currently plaguing Walker’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, who has been accused of evicting low-income tenants from an apartment building his church runs as he himself receives a hefty monthly housing stipend.
On Tuesday, Tapper gave a lecture on “extremism” and how Republicans have been using the label against their Democratic opponents leading up to the midterms, specifically when it comes to crime and the “defund the police” movement.
But Tapper defended Democrats, arguing “there’s a difference between extremists who are exiled to the outer fringes of their party and extremists who are embraces by their party,” quickly pointing to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and her history of peddling conspiracy theories and the “openly, hideously, shamelessly racist” comments Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville recently made at a rally accusing Democrats of being “pro-crime” and wanting to give criminals reparations they feel are “owed” to them, which has sparked backlash on the left.
Tapper implied Trump “invited all of these extremists into the Grand Old Party.”
“These extremist views are making the American experiment difficult to achieve. How can you work on legislation with someone who pushes messaging and seems to subscribe to QAnon, a group that accuses Democrats of being part of a satanic, pedophilic cult that eats babies? They cast their political opponents not just as wrong, but as evil,” Tapper exclaimed before showing footage from the Capitol riot. “January 6, 2021. Forget ‘defunding the police,’ this is physically assaulting the police. And Trump is promising the insurrectionists full pardons if he gets re-elected. He’s embracing that extremism, he’s embracing that extremist violence.”
The CNN anchor then played the famous clip of 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, who pushed back against a supporter’s claim that then-candidate Barack Obama was an “Arab.” McCain praised his Democratic opponent as a “decent family man, citizen” he disagreed with.
“Republican senator and presidential nominee John McCain took that woman’s microphone. Political leaders today in the Republican Party seem more inclined to turn up the volume,” Tapper concluded.
Five out of eight of his opening lectures so far were either about Jan. 6, bashing Trump and Republicans, or deriding right-wing social media platforms. In total, 19 out of 40 of the segments between Oct. 11-Oct. 19 knocked Trump and Republicans while only three were mildly critical of Biden and Democrats. The remaining segments were largely on apolitical topics.
The majority of Tappers guests have either been adversaries to Trump or advocates of the Democratic agenda. Among his guests include anti-Trump Republicans outgoing Jan. 6 Committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger, and Rep. Peter Meijer, former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, New York Times’ Trump-centric reporter Maggie Haberman and award-winning composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who touted his campaign-stomping for Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat.
On Wednesday, Tapper berated one of his guests, New Hampshire governor and vocal Trump critic Chris Sununu, for rallying behind GOP Senate candidate Don Bolduc, someone the CNN anchor deemed an “election liar.”
“You recently have embraced him even though during the primaries, you called him a quote ‘conspiracy theory extremist who’s not a serious candidate,'” Tapper told Sununu. “But now you’re telling Republicans in your state to vote for him- this guy is not all there!”
“Look, I’m supporting the Republican ticket up and down because you know who’s not there? Any of my Democratic congressional delegation,” Sununu responded. “They’re literally not here! They literally spent years- [incumbent Sen. Maggie] Hassan literally spent years out of state-“
“You know I’m not talking about his physical presence. He was a staunch election liar.” Tapper said. “Before he won the primary, he was an election liar, then he drastically swapped his position once he won the nomination and realized, ‘Oh my God, there’s a bunch of sane people in New Hampshire I have to appeal to.”
“Governor Sununu, you’re a sane Republican at a time when a lot of people are looking for sane Republicans. Are you hurting the cause of sane Republicans when you embrace people like that?” Tapper hammered the governor who doubled down on his opposition towards Democrats.
On Thursday, Tapper similarly asked former 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush if he thought there was room for a “sane Republican” in the 2024 race.
Tapper’s stint in primetime has so far not attracted viewers to CNN. If anything, he has repelled them.
From Oct. 11-19, “Anderson Cooper 360,” the program that leads into Tapper’s, has averaged 847,000 viewers. “CNN Tonight with Jake Tapper” has averaged only 720,000 viewers, quickly becoming one of CNN’s least-watched programs. “Hannity” averaged 2.7 million viewers while “Alex Wagner Tonight” averaged 1.5 million in the same time slot.
In fact, Tapper’s old daytime program “The Lead,” which has been guest-hosted by John Berman, has had a bigger audience than his primetime show, averaging 815,000 viewers in his absence.
“We disagree with the premise of this story and take issue with the methodology,” a CNN spokesman told Fox News Digital. “Jake has had a variety of guests across the political spectrum in his first seven days, and critiquing extremists is not a partisan issue.”
“As for the program, we are incredibly pleased with its first week on air and are enthusiastic about the direction it’s heading,” the spokesman added.