CNN anchor Jake Tapper visited the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the Michigan League Friday afternoon, where University of Michigan students, parents, faculty and community members gathered for a conversation between Tapper and Lynette Clemetson, director of Wallace House Center for Journalists. The pair discussed Tapper’s experience reporting on the Israel-Hamas war and the challenges of being a journalist in a time of rampant misinformation.
Tapper, who returned to the U.S. Wednesday night after spending 10 days in Israel covering the ongoing war, spoke on the difficulty of reporting on violent and traumatic events.
“What the poor, innocent people in Gaza are going through right now, and what the people in Israel went through after that devastating attack, it’s just absolutely horrific,” Tapper said. “I’ve covered wars before — it’s awful — but there was just something about this that was just horrible.”
Tapper also spoke on the challenges of reporting on an ongoing war for CNN with only partial information available, especially when misinformation is constantly circulating online and in news media.
“The challenges of a 24-hour channel are considerable because something happens and we have to report on it then,” Tapper said. “And sometimes mistakes can be made in that moment of wanting to tell people what’s going on, and one side or the other is claiming that they know more than they do.”
The discussion later shifted to a Q&A format, using questions submitted by audience members earlier in the event. The first question of the evening asked Tapper how he is working to combat misinformation around the Israel-Hamas war. Tapper said though he and CNN work to ensure the information they report is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, he recognizes that this is not always possible, particularly when covering breaking news.
“CNN, like any news media organization, is made up of human beings — and human beings are fallible,” Tapper said. “But there is a tremendous effort to make sure that everything that’s on air has been vetted and is as factual as possible. News is the best first draft of history. Things change, facts change, information changes. Everybody’s trying their best to make sure that it is correct information.”
Tapper said he has grappled with how to fairly cover the Israel-Hamas war with only limited airtime. He said his priority is to recognize the human toll of the conflict and to share with viewers the information he has available at any given time.
“There are just so many nuances that you can’t even honestly fairly cover this conflict, even in a two-hour show,” Tapper said. “I will never be able to do a two-hour coverage of this conflict that will be perfect. I just won’t. It’s just impossible. So all I can do is do the best that I can and just acknowledge the humanity and the pain that exists and just try to be as honest as I can with the viewers about what is going on on any one individual day.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily before the event, Tapper said he determines the content of his coverage by staying as informed as possible on current events and taking into account the perspectives of those around him.
“I read a lot and I follow a lot of news from all over the country, and I just see what pisses me off,” Tapper said. “I listen to my staff — they’re all doing the same thing, keeping an eye on stories from their hometowns or stories that enrage them, and all that taken together, we just try to have a balance.”
Friday’s event was part of an ongoing series titled, “Democracy in Crisis: Views From the Press.” Clemetson asked Tapper what the title of the series means to him, and what his advice is for students hoping to enter public policy-related fields. From his position as a journalist, Tapper said he believes U.S. democracy is fragile and that advocates for specific political causes must account for this vulnerability.
“There is something bigger going on right now than politics,” Tapper said. “I understand that there are really important issues having to do with reproductive rights and LGBT rights and civil rights, and I am not belittling any of them. But if democracy goes out the window there is nothing else.”
Engineering junior Alexander Lourbas commented on Tapper’s reputation in an interview with The Michigan Daily after the event. Lourbas said Tapper’s perspective was insightful when considering a broad range of issues the country is faced with.
“Jake Tapper is known to be really knowledgeable on a lot of news and a lot of cultural issues that America is dealing with right now,” Lourbas said. “I think that hearing someone as knowledgeable and as seasoned as Jake Tapper talk about these issues and contextualize them within the larger democratic crisis that our nation is facing really just helps us as students and as young adults.”
As political polarization continues to increase in the U.S., Tapper said he often wrestles with how to balance representing different perspectives while ensuring he does not uplift misinformation. Tapper said given the fact that eight senators and 139 representatives of the Republican party in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, he feels like he cannot avoid allowing some of the lawmakers who have previously advanced lies about the election on his show to talk about other issues.
“Shortly after the election of 2020 and the efforts to undermine the election, I was doing a podcast interview with Kara Swisher and I said something along the lines of, ‘People in the media should be having a conversation about whether or not we even book election liars because if they’re willing to lie about the election, what else are they willing to lie about?’ ” Tapper said. “I have had election liars on, and I’ve had them on sparingly and I’ve had them on to not talk about that.”
LSA senior Pauline Droege told The Daily after the event that while she was drawn to attend because she is a fan of Tapper, she was also particularly interested to hear what he had to say in relation to the event’s title.
“I’ve been watching Jake Tapper for years,” Droege said. “But I was also really intrigued by the title of the Ford School series — Democracy in Crisis — because I feel like (for) myself, watching the news from conversations with either peers at the University or people I live with, people that I work with, I definitely can see like this political tension rising, especially in terms of democratic beliefs that I think everyone’s entitled to.”