In the tense hours overnight from Thursday, April 18, to Friday, April 19, after Boston Marathon bombing suspects and brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsnarnev engaged in a shootout with police — and after the murder of MIT police Officer Sean Collier — Jake Tapper essentially was CNN.
“I was anchoring,” he tells Zap2it, talking on Thursday (May 16), “from something like 1:30 in the morning till 9:30 in the morning. That was a crazy night.”
With photos of the suspects circulating, Tapper stayed on his iPad, following news and social-media reports and listening to the local police scanners, via a link provided to him by followers of his popular Twitter feed, @jaketapper.
“I reached out to the CNN news desk,” he recalls, “and said, ‘Is anyone listening to this?’ This is one in the morning. ‘Is anyone listening to this? Something serious is going on.'”
Throughout the entire incident, which resulted in the death of older brother Tamerlan and the eventual apprehension of the wounded Dzhokhar shortly after a general lockdown order was lifted in Watertown, Mass., national news — both broadcast and cable — relied not only on their own people but also on the work of Boston-area newspapers and TV stations.
Fast-forward to yesterday and today, as powerful tornadoes have ripped through the suburbs of Oklahoma City, Okla., killing dozens — including elementary-school students and others in Moore, Okla. — and injuring many more.
On Thursday, the tornado was still in motion during Tapper’s weekday, 4 p.m. ET, CNN show, “The Lead With Jake Tapper,” and he anchored with frequent cutaways to local affiliates and storm chasers, similar to what was also being done at the same time on MSNBC and FNC (click here for news from The Oklahoman).
Today, Tapper is anchoring “The Lead” from Oklahoma City, and he sends this quick email update: “Stories like these — as in other tragedies we’ve covered in the last several weeks — are horrific and hard to cover. But, as a reporter, it’s important to be here on the ground to tell the stories of the people and community affected, their loss and the recovery process that will follow.”
On the subject of horrific stories, Tapper and “The Lead” were one of the few places in the mainstream media to offer coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia before FNC commentator Kirsten Powers wrote a USA Today op-ed that alerted a largely indifferent or unknowing media to the stomach-churning tale of an abortionist accused — and now convicted — of killing babies born alive after abortions.
“The truth of the matter is,” Tapper says, “it is such a horrifying story that it’s not an easy story to tell on television. That’s not just about Gosnell, that’s about anything that involves horrific things happening to babies, to children. Those stories are often very, very difficult to tell.
“There were a lot of details from [the mass school shooting] at Newtown, Conn., that did not come forward on television. I’m not talking about the story write large, I just mean the details. There are details about Newtown that the public does not know, that reporters know, that police know, and quite honestly, that the public does not want to know.”
Regarding the Gosnell trial, which much of the media either wasn’t aware of or had averted its eyes from, Tapper had a personal connection.
“Look,” he says, “my dad is a pediatrician from Philadelphia. I know where Lancaster Ave. is. I know that was a story when I first heard about it, because I read a lot of Philadelphia media. So when it first exploded in Philadelphia media, I was horrified.
“When I got my own show, in the first week, I said, ‘We have to cover this, and we have to keep an eye on it and cover it periodically.’ I don’t disagree with anyone who says this should have been covered more. I’m only saying it was a challenge to tell it for a mass audience because it was so horrifying. Not that we shouldn’t have or not that we didn’t, but it was a challenge.”
One thing that comes through in all these stories is the vital importance of local media, which brings speed, access, knowledge, institutional memory and passion to stories that most national media can’t provide.
“You’re absolutely right,” says Tapper. “Look at the great work the Boston Globe did during the Marathon bombings. Look at the work that the Hartford (Conn.) newspaper did after Newtown. I agree with you 100 percent.
“The Philadelphia media — I say this as a Philadelphian, it is heartbreaking to see how the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News have been decimated over the years by bad management decisions.”
Tapper attributes part of this to the work of online news aggregators like the Huffington Post, which frequently rewrite news stories all or in part, leaving little reason for the reader to click through to the original source — often local news — even if a link is provided.
“It shows why,” Tapper says, “we, as a society, need to figure out ways to continue to keep these newspapers alive, because what they do is so important. … I don’t want to single out the Huffington Post, because a lot of these big, popular Websites do this.
“Drudge” — a.k.a. The Drudge Report, created by Matt Drudge — “gives you the headline, then you click and go to the local story. He’s not guilty of this at all. He’s the opposite. He helps local media. But what these other aggregators do — it seems to me that they could make an editorial decision and still get the clicks for their site but also be a little bit more generous and also more forward-leaning by sending more people to local media.
“What happens is, it’s a short-term decision, because ultimately what they’re doing hurts local media — and what happens when there’s no more Baltimore Sun? … Because, the moment they disappear, something horrible will be happening, some abuse of government, or some horrible criminals like Kermit Gosnell, and there won’t be anyone there to tell us about it or be an expert on it or to hold local officials accountable.”