Episode 55: Jake Tapper and the Art of Faux-Adversarialism

Citations Needed | October 31, 2018 | Transcript


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

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Adam: Yeah, any support is really appreciated. If you thought about doing it and haven’t done it, by all means do it. It helps keep the show going. So yeah. Today’s episode is about one of our favorite center of the center of the center serious newsmen, Jake Tapper, and this episode is not just about him, but what he represents.

Nima: From his left punching at Salon.com, where he cut his teeth in the early two thousands to his deficit scolding of the Obama administration, while at ABC as their White House correspondent in the late two thousands to now, his extreme success at writing not only pro military middlebrow kind of airport thriller novels, but also being the number one newsman opposed to Donald Trump. Jake Tapper’s career trajectory is basically an object lesson in how to succeed in corporate media. The formula generally goes like this: attack the fringes of the left and the right, but mostly the left. Never offend any traditional centers of power and mug. Constantly mug for the camera. Hitch your brand to “the troops” and always, always attack from the neoconservative right when it comes to foreign policy.

Adam: As we discussed in our John McCain news brief, the issue with John McCain was less about the man himself but more what he represented. The moral posturing of national security jingoism at the heart of America’s civic religion, a kind of phony notion of self importance that animates US militarism. Just the same, this week’s episode is less about Jake Tapper himself and more about what he represents: the kind of dead center of American corporate media, hollow faux-adversarialism marked by military worship, uninterested in original reporting or challenging traditional centers of power, but instead serving as a bouncer for Club Acceptable Opinion.

Nima: And to delve deeper into some of these issues we will be joined later in the show by journalist Natasha Lennard.

[Begin Clip]

Natasha Lennard: He believes in stable, immutable capital ‘T’ Enlightenment Truth and that if you just talk and set the idea of a center and two sides around it, that this truth is somehow not produced or not manufactured but found and I really think he believes that, which is really sad, but I think a lot of people believe that too. And it’s obviously no accident that these people tend to be already powerful and spouting conventional wisdom that keeps them powerful.

[End Clip]

Adam: I want to start by talking about what I view as the most quintessentially Jake Tapper. It’s October 6, 2016. The country is on the brink of the Trump disaster, Saudi bombings are raining down on Yemen, Hurricane Matthew has just flattened the Caribbean, Russian bombs are raining down on Syria, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are starting to heat up. Jake Tapper, our serious newsman, takes time out of his very important cable news ration to take on the most important story of the day.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: There’s something that’s bothering me a little bit. This week, Jackie, let me go to you on this, the White House hosted rapper Macklemore as part of a panel discussion on opioid use in America. Macklemore is apparently a 9/11 truther. Here’s a tweet from him from several years ago, “9–11…bush knocked down the towers.” Is it acceptable? I say in the most leading question ever, for the White House, which has a war against birthers and rightly so, to have a truther come to the White House?

Jackie: Yeah, this is probably not a good idea by the White House and I’m sure that they were kind of taken by surprise that he was a 9/11 truther. But yeah, it’s hard to, it’s hard to make the argument that the birtherism is this horrible thing and everybody should be against it when you have someone like that.

Jake Tapper: A truther.

Woman: But he’s a super cool truther.

Jackie: Yeah, I mean he wears those fur coats.

Jake Tapper: Yeah and anti-Semitic masks, but we’ll, we’ll, we’ll move on. We’ll move on from Macklemore and my feelings about him.

[End Clip]

Adam: So this is, this is Macklemore-gate. Okay. Macklemore is a B+, A- rapper who-

Nima: That’s very generous. (Laughs)

Adam: (Chuckles) So in 2009, he tweeted out “9–11…bush knocked down the towers.” Now I’m going to guess, I shouldn’t go out on a limb here, I don’t, I don’t know Macklemore, I’m sure he’s a very nice guy, that he was probably just some stoned twenty something year old, sent some stupid tweet.

Nima: Who read like David Ray Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor or whatever, and was like, Bush did —

Adam: Not the smartest tweet in the world. And then so seven years later he’s a successful normie rapper guy who gets invited to the White House to talk about opioid addiction because he says he has some moral purchase within certain white opioid communities, which seems benign enough. And then Jake Tapper thinks it’s really important, this is something he does all the time, he hunts down people and makes them condemn things. So then he responds to them, this is the day before the clip you just saw, on October 5, 2016, he goes to Macklemore, responds to his tweet, “don’t you think you should delete and apologize for ‘911…bush knocked down the towers’?”

Nima: ‘Macklemore. Sir!’ (Laughs.)

Adam: And uh, yeah, everything Jake Tapper says, you know, like how you have the fortune cookie, you can just say “in bed.” And like anything Jake Tapper says you just —

Nima: Put “Sir” —

Adam: Put “Sir” at the end of it because he’s constantly mugging and saying, “Sirrr.”

Nima: Yeah. So Jake Tapper, um, I, I think when we kind of are getting at with this entire episode, we have plenty more to get to specifically, but Tapper and the institutions that he represents, whether it’s ABC News or now CNN, the real, as we say, the kind of dead center of the center always needs to present both sides, false equivalency, he polices acceptable opinion and really kind of has this overall posture of taking on power and like addressing the real issues, making sure people condemn their hypocrisy. And, you know, like ‘let’s all speak like adults here’ when actually he’s really addressing nothing of substance. It’s pretty inane.

Adam: Yeah. So he equates this random Macklemore tweet from 2009 with what was a years long millionaire backed, billionaire backed anti-black smear against the first African American president, which is the birtherism stuff. Right? And he’s like, ‘well, if the White House is going to condemn birtherism,’ which effectively says that our president is an illegitimate Muslim from a foreign country, ‘shouldn’t they also condemned trutherism?’ But it’s like some random tweet Macklemore sent from 2009. There is no indication that he still believes it. This was back when he had 1,100 followers. He was a total nobody. The thing that they’re inviting him to do has nothing to do with 9/11 and has everything to do with helping people with drug addiction and this just sums up Tapper, which is that he’s obsessed with policing the fringes of acceptable thought in doing it in the muggiest muggy way possible, without thinking, ‘Man, you know what? Maybe a random tweet from someone who is 25 years old and probably stoned out of his mind in his one room apartment is not really the best use of my time.’

Nima: And also birtherism had and has serious implications in our politics. It really set the stage for so much of what we see now. The illegitimacy of Obama, the inherent bigotry in the charge and it was such an animating position of the Tea Party and now further, whereas to again, as you said, equate that with so-called trutherism, which obviously did not stop any of our bombings and any of our wars, did not actually affect our politics. And so it may be, you know, fringe and attacked by centrist Jake Tapper in that way, but again, the equivalency to say if they’re attacking birtherism, how dare they invite someone who randomly years earlier mentioned on Twitter with basically, you know, very few followers mentioned something about 9/11.

Adam: Before we go on, let’s take two seconds to really talk about who Jake Tapper is, for those who don’t know, who aren’t extremely online.

Nima: So Jake Tapper is currently CNN’s Chief Washington Correspondent. He is the host of the daily afternoon show The Lead, which he has been the host of since March 2013. And he is also the host of CNN’s flagship Sunday morning talk show, State of the Union, which he’s hosted since 2015. He cut his teeth at Salon and then ABC, as we’ve said, but he’s also the author of a few books, one of which is called The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor. A book about basically a Fort Apache-style showdown between US troops and the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is now being made into a Hollywood movie by the same studio that brought us The Expendables and Olympus Has Fallen. And so to kind of get just a general overview of who Jake Tapper is, we have to look no further than his former editor at Salon David Talbot, who pointed out a number of years ago, that Jake was always essentially a careerist in the way that he approached his position in the media.

Adam: His editor at Salon at the time told AlterNet last year that he said, “The main thing I remember about Jake was his driving ambition. He seemed to be headed for the TV spotlight all along. So I don’t find it surprising that he’s become a fixture of centrist, mainstream news.” He went on to talk about his gushing relationship, referring to him as a “John McCain groupie” and then Tapper himself in separate interviews went on to compare himself to Patty Hearst.

Nima: (Chuckles.) Like held captive by John McCain’s amazing charm.

Adam: Uh, and then said quote, he was “basically a cool dude.” This sycophancy to John McCain, which of course is a proxy for a sycophancy for the national security state, orthodoxy faux human rights posturing, militarism, the sense of American exceptionalism. Again, this is not about Tapper and it’s not even about McCain, right? It’s about a sort of overarching ideology and his, his love of McCain and his ability to kind of center in on what was the national security state’s number one avatar as a gateway to a career was telling about Tapper. Tapper knew where the centers of power lie and he knew how to look adversarial, look independent while, you know, he could take the sort of roller coaster of descent every now and then, but ultimately you have to end up back at the same place, which is that America is the moral beacon, is the city on the hill and McCain represented that.

Nima: And so what we see in this time since Salon Jake’s career has really flourished now under the Trump presidency. He is a leading figure in the #Resistance, earning gooey fawning profiles in major media outlets. Slate has called him, for example, quote, “the ideal newsman of our age.” End quote. The New York Times says, quote, “CNN’s Jake Tapper has emerged as a staunch defender of facts in the Trump era.” Unquote. “He’s not afraid to call out lies and misrepresentations,” CNN’s Anderson Cooper, his colleague, has declared. Vogue said that Jake Tapper is quote, “the Internet hero — and journalistic sensation — of the Trump era.” There was a especially fawning obsequious profile in GQ in April of 2017, which called Tapper quote, “the Realest Man in Fake News” and the profile ran with this introduction: quote, “With the leader of the Free World now waging a self-styled war with the media, no journalist on TV has become more indignant, more combative, and suddenly more essential than Jake Tapper. The CNN anchor’s ramrod brand of honest outrage has made him a bona fide star and prompted an unlikely question: How, in an age of lies, does a guy make righteous truth-telling so damn entertaining?” A lot of this praise was heaped on Tapper in early 2017. Kind of leading to a lot of these profiles when there is a now infamous interview that he did with Kellyanne Conway, the Trump surrogate, which went viral and earned Tapper very kind of gushing praise.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: I guess what I’m getting at here is there is a larger campaign being waged by President Trump and by the White House, uh, to undermine the credibility of everybody in the news media except for certain supportive outlets. And, and uh, for instance, earlier today President Trump made a quote about the murder rate being at the highest level it’s ever been in 47 years. He said that, and he said, nobody in the media reports on that. There’s a reason that nobody in the media reports on that. It’s not true. The murder rate is not at the highest rate it’s been in 47 years. It spiked a little, it went up a little, but it’s still much, much lower. It’s a, it’s a 4.9 people per 100,000. That’s dwarfed the murder rates in the 1990s and before that in the 1980s. Facts are stubborn things. And to say that we’re not reporting something that happens not to be true, therefore we’re not to be trusted. That’s a problem.

Kellyanne Conway: Well, Jake, if I can take the broader issue of our relationship with the media, I mean I’m among, if not the most open press person in the White House. I’m now being attacked by the media, including networks that are familiar to you and I’m just going to keep soldiering on. I mean I came to this White House to serve this president who is serving people. I have in my portfolio here, veterans. I have women and children. I have opiod use and we’re working on all of that. I sat in on the Sheriff’s Round Table today. I sat in on the Veterans Affairs and I know that that’s something near and dear to your heart because I see you often give voice and visibility, lend your considerable platform to our fallen soldiers and to our brave men and women in uniform. On that we agree and if we can find areas of agreement, give me a call because I sat in on that. I sat in on a similar meeting in Mar-a-Lago over the holidays, a working session. We had some of the top minds, the top minds and leaders in healthcare here to the White House today so they can advise specifically on Veterans Affairs issues. Not a single person there said, ‘oh, you know, President Obama didn’t get.’ Nobody said that. It was basically how do we move forward so that the structure is better. The responsiveness is better. I can’t imagine anybody disagrees with President Trump when he says if we don’t take care of our veterans, who are we really as a nation? So if we can find areas of agreement-

Jake Tapper: Not addressing what I just talked about, what we’re talking about is the fact that the White House is waging war on people who are providing information, sometimes risking their lives to do so. Saying that nothing we say is true. All of it is fake. I would much rather be talking to you about veterans issues. In fact, when it comes to the Trump administration, I would much rather be covering immigration, I would much rather be covering trade and I would much rather be covering draining the swamp and counterterrorism, but instead every day there are these sprays of attack and sprays of falsehoods coming from the White House. It would be better if they were not covering from the White House for me and for you.

[End Clip]

Adam: GQ said quote, the “Blogs reported that Tapper had ‘crushed’ and ‘taken down’ Conway. Samantha Bee tweeted, ‘We are all that crease between Jake Tapper’s eyebrows.’ Van Jones tweeted that Jake Tapper ‘is a GOD.’ [All caps.] Alyssa Milano tweeted to him, ‘You are giving me hope. Thank you for all you do.’ (His reply: “Are you saying I’m the boss?”)” God.

Nima: (Laughing.) So creepy.

Adam: “He became a screen grab, a meme, a Facebook avatar to people not named Jake Tapper. A woman on the Internet wrote a song about him. ‘Oh, Jake Tapper, you are making me swoon,’ it goes. ‘You ain’t taking no shit. I think I’m over the moon.’”

Nima: (Laughing.)

Adam: I mean, this is, by the way, this is taking on like the lowest of the lowest hanging fruit, which is —

Nima: Some woman on the Internet wrote a song about Jake Tapper. (Laughing.)

Adam: Well no, I mean it’s like Kellyanne Conway. Yeah, she’s a piece of shit. Trump’s a piece of shit. Like, I mean that’s true and it’s good to sort of dunk on them when you have the opportunity to do so because, you know, he is the President of United States, but it’s like the most sort of safe kind of, yeah, Kellyanne Conway’s bad. Okay. This isn’t a traditional center of power.

Nima: And yet Tapper always holds himself up as this real challenge to power, as we’ve said. This real kind of truth telling adversary. So for example, he said of himself in an interview with Vogue last year, quote, “I’ve kind of always been the same pain in the butt to people in power; there just might be something about this moment that people are noticing it.” So you know, Jake really considers himself a buttress against crazy in Washington. He is the same newsman, but how did he get here? And so Adam and I are going to rewind a little bit. We’re going to take the clock back a bit. When he was still at ABC News and became a national star for beltway reporting as the White House correspondent for ABC, and it’s not just the McCain worship, it’s not just the Trump stuff because this was now before that. It is something else. He does something constantly in his reporting, especially on domestic issues when it comes to the economy, that we have seen from a lot of these kind of centrist reporters and we’ve talked about it on the show before, but Jake Tapper was known to do this especially well.

Adam: So yeah, there’s basically two religions for the elite in this country, which is the national security orthodoxy, which Tapper more or less defends in lockstep, throws praise on. The second one is the deficit scam. As we’ve talked on the show many, many times, which is totally horseshit, which is basically a way of saying that we need to cut government programs and we need to balance the deficits. Right? This is something that about six billionaires care about and a couple people at The Washington Post editorial board and maybe like a couple of New York Times columnists and basically no one else in the world cares about, which is this idea that we have to balance budgets and tighten our belt and all those other sort of pablum. Now in 2009, when it was at its height, when Obama was trying to stimulate the economy, which was the most morally urgent that they could have done at the time since the economy had crashed, they needed to spend government money, Tapper really took Republicans at face value that they cared about deficits. When anyone who’d been following these things, including by the way, the only real mainstream person who called bullshit on this was Paul Krugman, which is why I sort of always give him a pass even though he kind of sucks in many ways, but this and the Iraq war, he was like, yeah, that’s bullshit. They were obsessed with deficits and Jake Tapper at ABC News as an ostensibly neutral reporter really led the charge on this and published a lot of what I would view as being straight out of Cato Institute, straight out of kind of Pete Peterson, anti-deficit spending propaganda, anti-deficit propaganda. I want to play a clip from one instance of a report he did. This is again ostensibly a sort of neutral ABC report, which begins by pushing the idea that government spending is similar to family spending. This is a very popular cliche in Libertarian and far right-wing circles that Jake Tapper, sort of professional pretty person just kind of takes at face value without much thought or analysis at all. So let’s listen to that.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: Let’s try it with numbers more easily understood. Removing eight zeros from all the numbers. So say the $3.8 trillion budget is actually $38,000. Like a family budget. This budget would have our American family spending $38,000 while only taking in $29,000. So our family is racking up $9,000 in new debt. And keep in mind, our family already owes $153,000 in credit card debt. Turning back to real numbers, that’s a $15 trillion national debt, a number which keeps going up year after year after year. Does that seem responsible?

[End Clip]

Adam: This ends by the way, if you can’t see it, but this is when he goes up and up and up he shows that national deficit clock that’s like total bullshit.

Nima: Oh yeah that clock, ticking ticking ticking —

Adam: That some right-wing billionaire funds.

Nima: (Laughs.)

Adam: By the way, this is when a third of the economy has completely tanked. This is in 2010. This is people are suffering. People are literally starving. People can’t find jobs. And he’s worried, super worried about the deficit.

Nima: (Laughs.) Now, just quickly, this idea of let’s consider the budget of the government of the United States of America, the richest country on the planet who spends more money in their budget than any other country, let’s just pretend that that’s like shit, I don’t know, like your average American family. Now, a lot of things are wrong with this and this has been written about before, but you kind of can’t make this analogy in good faith. You have to pretend that the United States is not actually the United States and you have to pretend that somehow, you know, a family is able to, I don’t know, print their own money, which is what a government can do, is what the US government can do. It can just print money. It completely misses out on what inflation does. He misses out on the fact that families can’t just decide to make money by say, I don’t know, raising taxes on their employers. Like, it doesn’t work that way.

Adam: And the economic weeds aside like this is a, it’s a very ideological and dogmatic assumption about deficits. It’s not some neutral objective thing. It’s not. He’s not discussing global warming or gravity or germ theory. This is a highly contestable ideological assumption that he makes that he does not view as one. He views it as sort of being self evidently true. That deficits are a problem because he’s so indoctrinated with centrist ideology, either for careerist reasons or because whatever he sort of drank the Kool-Aid, it doesn’t really matter to me either way, what his sort of motives are, but this is something you see time and time again, which is the same thing with national security orthodoxy where highly contestable ideological assumptions about America’s military moral superiority or the deficit are just taking for granted. And this is how ideology is, is largely jammed down people’s throats, and so this happened again with the recent Medicare for All fact check that he did, which caused a huge controversy. He ended up having to do a retraction or seeming retraction, which I think he sort of euphemistically called a clarification.

Nima: (Laughs.) Right. Because he couldn’t actually admit that he totally got it wrong.

Adam: Yeah, and this is a guy who completely took Republicans at face value in the late two thousands during the Obama early years at their deficit concerns has now seen deficits balloon under Trump, has now seen the tax cuts balloon the deficits, now sees a permanent war every year. Everyone votes for military budgets, never ask how those are paid for. So Republican hypocrisy on this issue has been completely exposed. No morally serious person looks at deficits now as a legitimate concern, but he’s still carrying the torch for the sort of Pete Peterson crowd, uh, because that’s again, either ideologically or or careerist wise, that’s what he believes to be the most important thing right now. And so he did this recently with a Medicare for All fact check that went horribly awry. So what happened was, is that both Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez said there was a Koch brothers study that said that the Medicare for All plan would save the American people two trillion dollars, which is true. Jake Tapper said that that was false because the government would spend more money, conflating the government and the American people. Again, what Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez says is absolutely true, he said it was false. So then there was an exchange between him and Matt Bruenig and Ryan Grim on Twitter, where, here’s what Jake Tapper said after he sort of got piled on for being obviously dishonest. He said, “So we reviewed everything. We stand by everything I said in the video. I do, however, take issue with the graphic in the piece that says false, since our conclusion was more nuanced and I never said the word, so I’ll ask them to remove that graphic. Thanks.” So this is a sort of not admission admission.

Nima: Throwing the the graphics intern under the bus to protect Jake Tapper’s good name. ‘I never said the word false.’

Adam: Yeah, totally. Profile in courage. So then Matt Bruenig says, “Jake, you cannot claim that Bernie said ‘the government’ would save $2 trillion. He did not say that, instead he said Americans would over all save $2 trillion. Look at the video clip of Bernie again. This is undeniably a false representation of Bernie’s claim. Straight up.” Ryan Grim said, “Not to pile on,” which is a good way of saying I’m piling on, “but everything hinges on whether Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez said that the study found Medicare for All would save ‘the government $2 trillion.’ I’ve never seen Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez make that claim. It’s about overall costs.” And then Tapper says, “We cited the quotes in the piece. Sanders, ‘Let me thank the Koch Brothers, of all people, for sponsoring a study that shows that Medicare for All would save the American people $2 trillion over a ten year period.’” And then says, “Have a good weekend.” He somehow thinks that the government and the American people are the same thing. So he’s caught in this very clear lie and the reason is, is because Tapper already had his mind made up, which is that we were super concerned with the deficits. These wild socialists are spending all this money and I’m a serious person who’s looking at serious numbers and he was totally 100 percent wrong. Either him or one of his flunkies conflated the American people, the government, instead of admitting he was wrong, he does the, ‘I’m taking my ball and going home, have a good weekend.’ And this is very typical of how he responds to criticism, which is to get petulant and to, again, throw an intern under the bus or, or sort of give a faux apology, a faux admission. Um, but this is indicative of his, of his war path, of his holy war against deficits.

Nima: Well, and I, I think that there’s an additional layer to this actually when it comes to his framing of why he is doing this fact check. He is very clear that the people praising this study and using right-wing, Libertarian talking points against itself, he is very clear in the, at the very beginning of his fact check where he’s sitting in the CNN office addressing the webcam and it’s that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are Democratic Socialists and the idea that he can then knock down claims made by quote unquote “socialists” is, I think, a very animating endeavor for him.

Adam: This is indicative of a broader self important belief that he’s the sort of reasonable center and that serious people think deficits are an issue and there’s not any sense of questioning what the motives of some of these studies would be or who these people are. And then again, he launders a lot of these right-wing think tanks by saying this is, these are liberal think tanks who say that deficits are an issue. And of course the liberal think tanks he’s citing are the Urban Institute, which is a corporate right-wing, pro-democratic think tank. There isn’t any sense of interrogating sources. There’s no sense of looking deep. He doesn’t do any original journalism. I don’t think he’s done any original journalism in probably ten years. There isn’t any sense of going to seek, find new information. It’s just a constant sort of epistemological hall monitor. He sort of policing acceptable thought, corralling conventional wisdom, inviting powerful people on his show and maybe once every hundred questions maybe ask them something remotely challenging and that’s his shtick. That’s his sort of angle. And then when he does ask someone in power a challenging question, there’s about three days of mugging. There’s a whole mugging process.

Nima: About how earnest he is in getting to the truth. Something else that that he used to do a lot is this notion that social security is running out of money and he would kind of push that as well. And it’s all kind of the same idea as this Medicare deficit trolling and just to kind of show that as long as you can be super, super centrist, you can have a really, really good career and part of that is not just domestically focused. Of course, a lot of that is when he sets his sights, as so many do, overseas. And so Jake Tapper, some of his very favorite targets for criticism beyond Democratic Socialists here at home, as well as obviously the current president whom he obviously despises, but other targets abroad include always the pre-approved official enemies of the good old US-of-A namely the governments of say, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, Iran. Sometimes he’ll include a dig or two about China to kind of promote the idea that sanctions against China is a good idea.

Adam: In December of 2017, 128 countries condemned the US for moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in Israel, which was considered a hugely provocative move, basically erases any promise of a two state solution. Flies in the face of American policy for the past sixty years. Flies in the face of all international law. Jake Tapper took this moment to talk about how hypocritical all those evil other countries were.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: Among the 128 countries that voted to condemn the US on this issue were some countries with some rather questionable records of their own. Take Venezuela’s representative today.

The world is not for sale. The world is not for sale and your threats imperil global peace.

The US imperils global peace as the representative of Venezuela, a country in a humanitarian disaster with violence in the streets, an economy in complete collapse, citizens malnourished, dying children being turned away from hospitals, starving families joining street gangs to scrounge for food. On what moral platform does the government of Venezuela stand today? Not to be outdone of course, the US also got an earful today from Syria. We’re in the seventh year of the brutal Syrian Civil War that has killed half a million people and displaced millions, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has used chemical weapons against his own citizens, including children. Also feeling a bit preachy today Yemen, which helped draft the resolution condemning the US seemingly more focused at least during the speech on where the US puts its embassy in Israel than on the 7 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation in that countries civil war.

In light of the set of circumstances that our region is experiencing and which constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Yemen concerned with stability in the region. Interesting. There are plenty of policies and actions that are perfectly valid to criticize about the United States and about Israel and certainly whether this move will help the peace process in any way seems one of them, but listening to these countries, including North Korea and Myanmar and Turkey and China lecturing the United States in any way about human rights and peace might seem a bit much. But here is a bit of context that you might not know. According to UN Watch, which monitors the United Nations, the United Nations General Assembly from 2012 through 2015 has adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country. And of those 97, 83 of them have focused on Israel. That is 86 percent. Now, certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful of weapons, you have to ask, is Israel truly deserving of 86 percent of the world’s condemnation or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations? Something that allows the representative of the Assad government to lecture the United States for moving its embassy?

[End Clip]

Nima: So there’s a lot of garbage there.

Adam: First off, it ends with a kind of vague accusation of antisemitism because that’s what Jake Tapper believes. He has a very self admitted Zionist. He believes Israel has unique moral right to exist and blah, blah, blah. He’s doing a very classic pro-Israel talking point that the reason why people criticize Israel is because they’re anti-semitic. Now, completely omitted from this vague innuendo is that the reason why Israel is brought up on the Human Rights Council is because the US is an automatic veto on the General Security Council, so anything that’s remotely going to be critical of Israel is automatically not in the Security Council, which is the only thing that can actually do anything, which is the only thing that has any actual legal purchase. And so before Obama’s abstention in 2016, it had been since 2002 that the Security Council criticized Israel. So we had a full fourteen and a half years and even that was like a wishy-washy both sides thing. And before that I think it was, it was the mid-nineties. So on the Security Council they virtually never criticize Israel, which is why the issue always gets brought to the Human Rights Council. And the Human Rights Council is completely toothless. It can’t do anything. It’s completely formal. And the reason why it singles out quote unquote “singles out” Israel because Israel is very existence to set up by the international community. It’s one of the only countries established after the creation of the UN. So it uniquely falls within its parameters. It uniquely falls within its charter. Now, if you actually look at the countries brought up in the Security Council, Israel doesn’t rank in the top thirty, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, these countries are routinely brought up. If you look at, um, and we can link to it in the show notes, there’s a, there’s actually like a word cloud you can look at, the Security Council meetings in the year 2016. Israel barely registers. Israel’s about a four point font country. Um, so again, you have to, you have to have context to dissect these talking points, but Tapper’s not really concerned with the context he’s concerned with getting across banal, pro-Israel, superficial talking points. And this is something he does routinely when it comes to the defense of Israel. It’s all, it’s so fucking smug. It’s just, he’s the definition of smarm. He has one mode and it’s smarm and mugging. It’s all he fucking does.

Nima: Now, what Tapper does about Israel is actually, you know, it is a constant part of his repertoire. He’s done it when it came to Obama’s policy for the Iran deal. Basically he takes Israeli talking points and just poses them as questions. For example, he did that even more recently when Israeli snipers were firing at will at Palestinian protestors in Gaza, and he had Bernie Sanders on to talk about this and this was the exchange.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: I want to turn to the violent clashes in Gaza over the weekend. You tweeted about this yesterday. You wrote quote, “The killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic. It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response,” unquote. The Israeli government called the protests “violent terror demonstrations.” The ambassador of Israel to the United Nations said Hamas fighters were interspersed throughout the crowd using human shields and were killed after making quote, “direct attacks on Israeli positions.” Do you not accept the Israeli government’s explanation?

Bernie Sanders: No, I don’t. I think, from what my understanding is, is you have tens and tens of thousands of people who are engaged in a nonviolent protest. Uh, I believe now fifteen or twenty people, uh, Palestinians have been killed and many, many others have been wounded. So I think it’s a difficult situation. Uh, but my assessment is that Israel overreacted on that.

[End Clip]

Nima: So, you know, you can see he basically posits the you know Israeli government position as just asking questions. ‘Look, I’m just asking questions here.’ You know, ‘do you accept the Israeli government’s position?’ Putting Bernie Sanders in the spot of having to dispute — oh my god, fainting couch — what Israel has said about their own right to self-defense.

Adam: And so yeah, and again he always has to attack from the right, from the neoconservative right. He does this a lot with Trump, right? He doesn’t dislike Trump for being an imperialist and bombing people, but sort of not being adequately anti evil dictator.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: Accuating brutality and despotism with leadership that’s not an American value. Ronald Reagan once noted, how our Declaration of Independence, especially the notion that each and every individual is endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that’s a beacon to the world. Reagan said, quote, “Our creed as Americans is that these rights, these human rights are the property of every man, woman, and child on this planet, and that a violation of human rights anywhere is the business of free people everywhere.” Unquote.

[End Clip]

Adam: Reagan constantly praised fucking dictators. He used, he praised the Mujahideen, he praised the fucking right-wing death squads in Nicaragua.

Nima: Of course, because it’s not about that, that’s the thing. It’s not about that. This moral indignation that Jake Tapper has about, you know, foreign dictators obviously will not include, let’s say Benjamin Netanyahu. I don’t think we’ll hear him listed off in the same litany because obviously what it comes down to is America the Great.

Adam: No mention of Trump’s love of Mohammed bin Salman, the dictator of Saudi Arabia, because those are dictators that are just factored in. Those are, those are already existing dictators, but he praises these other dictators who I guess normally we partner with and align with and own military bases with but don’t directly praise. So yeah, it’s, it’s a marketing issue. It’s a marketing problem. The whole, the whole book Trump embraces dictator thing is purely marketing. It’s that he’s, he’s saying ‘fuck you’ to any kind of moral pretense and just doing what we were doing anyway. Which, you know, you could argue that that’s bad by a degree. I think it probably is, but the underlying system is the same. The alliances are the same. We had alliances with the Philippines and Turkey before. Turkey is in NATO. Like that’s, nothing fundamentally is changing.

Nima: So Jake Tapper’s role is to restore the dignity of the image of the United States without actually changing anything that United States actually does around the world.

Adam: With his, with his constant ‘how dare you, sir’ posture.

Nima: Exactly. So to discuss this and more, we are going to be joined in just a sec by journalist Natasha Lennard. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by journalist Natasha Lennard, whose work you can find in The Intercept and many, many other places. It is so great to talk to you today on Citations Needed Natasha, thanks so much for joining us.

Natasha Lennard: Hi Guys. Thank you for having me.

Adam: Um, so just to start off with, when discussing the career of Jake Tapper and I think what he represents is really what this show’s about, which we sort of view as a, as a fidelity to national security state orthodoxy as a obsession with deficits in sort of the center of the center of the center, the ultimate serious person. One of the things we noted was his obsession with sort of seeking out what he views as being fringe people on the left and then compelling other people in the sort of good standing of the left, like liberals and Democrats to sort of condemn them. Whether it’s Linda Sarsour, whether it’s Farah Khan, whether it’s Assata Shakur. Can you comment a bit on this obsession and what you think sort of motivates it and what, in your view, are some of the, some of the excesses of it?

Natasha Lennard: Well, absolutely and I think first of all, what I find amusing is when he sets his sights on someone like Linda Sarsour, who, you know, she’s an activist and she certainly speaks to and from like a broad swathes of the left, but she’s hardly extreme, you know, she organized the mass Women’s March which very much left room for and embraced kind of a pink probably wearing Hillary Clinton-style feminism. And so even his remit, when he’s trying to say, you know, ‘I’m the journalist’s journalist, I’m of the center and you can, you can see this by how I will point out the far-right and the far-left,’ he’s just sort of talking about activist leftists. I mean he also went after Keith Ellison, hardly a revolutionary. And yes, of course, the reason he went after Keith Ellison was because of a historic and no longer continuing and fleeting relationship with Minister Farrakhan who, you know, so many politicians have interacted with. The guy spoke at Rosa Parks’ funeral and somehow this is the landscape in which Jake Tapper sees himself as the kind of firm and steady center. First of all, he claims to be far-left. I certainly wouldn’t. And then you ask what motivates him to do this? It really is that his primary drive is to assert himself as the bearer of truth and he does that in the most insanely boring, conservative liberal way, which is to say if I’ve said three sentences about Donald Trump, I must find someone I consider a bigot of a different color to do it. So, you know, on the day after the Supreme Court passed the Muslim ban, he was like, you know, ‘should I talk about the Muslim ban or should I find a Muslim politician and talk about Farrakhan? Oh, I think I’ll do that.’ And that I think is just ur-Jake Tapper. Like that’s all you ever really need to know about the machinations of this man.

Nima: Yeah, I think that’s such a great point. Also, I should add the, um, when he did that whole thing about Linda Sarsour and Assata Shakur, when he got a little pushback, do you remember what he insisted was true? That some people were like, you know, I got to tell you, Jake, the whole Assata Shakur thing, there’s a lot of doubt about what, you know, about her guilt and about that night in 1973 on the New Jersey Turnpike. And do you remember what he then referenced as his like, ‘Oh no.’ ‘Oh No, I know what I’m talking about.’ It was the FBI’s own report on Assata Shakur.

Natasha Lennard: Amazing!

Nima: It was like, no, no, no. It was like-

Adam: Yeah, somebody said, somebody said, uh, you know, ‘Jake, I think it’s not that simple.’ And he responded, ‘Nope.’ And then link to fbi.gov’.

Nima: (Laughing.)

Natasha Lennard: Oh, that’s amazing. He’s like ‘My best friends, my best friends at the FBI found it.’

Adam: Yeah. Like this is dispositive because as we all know 1970s era FBI has no conflict of interest whatsoever. They simply seek the truth.

Natasha Lennard: (Laughs.)

Nima: (Laughs.) But yeah, no, I, I think, I think you make such a good point that it really is this kind of constant false equivalency that he finds and that I think for him that’s what being a journalist is, you know, I mean, something we were talking about earlier on the show is, is, his kind of lack of original reporting, you know, like he’s just kind of a cipher and then we couldn’t really figure out, if Jake Tapper is a news anchor or an editorialist, how do you think he kind of winds up blending those things so that his own ideology permeates what is seen as being just bare bones facts?

Natasha Lennard: I mean I think you have to have the Tapper career trajectory to pull off this, like most boring but most like devastating sleight of hand because he is such a Washington insider so that like him being an anchor and an editorialist just melds together over twenty years of kissing so much politician ass that he can always have whoever he wants on the show. So he’s in total control just to create a spread in which he seems imminently reasonable and sensible at all times. Um, you know, he’s, he’s the perfect gray man, like the kind of person who would have gone to Cambridge in the sixties and been hired by the MI-5, like it’s nothing like James Bond. It’s Jake Tapper, which doesn’t make them neutral. It makes them like the most deep state political people in the world. But by this like complete performance of blandness that covers as a like mask for ideological centrism, which is conservatism and I think, I think he can only manage to do it semi-convincingly or convincing to the people that actually watch him and give him countless awards is because he’s just been in that quagmire for so long.

Adam: I think the Trump administration in many ways is sort of a godsend because it permits them to be this barrier, this, this sort of anti-Trump hero, which of course is the easiest thing you can do. It’s sort of like the free space in Bingo for mortality. It’s, yeah, you’re anti-Trump. Okay. Now what? And mug a lot and posture a lot, its just his two favorite activities and his, his affection for McCain especially, we discussed earlier in the show how his career was built in the back of McCain when he was at Salon. You know, writing on the, on the Straight Talk Express, being one of his, his left-wing whispers back when he was extensively posing as a left-winger. What do you think his affection for McCain is in the broader kind of national security state that he represents means and to what extent is it, is it a sort of gateway into a kind of career stability? Is it sincere? Is it a combination? Not to sort of have you read motives too much but-

Natasha Lennard: Um, I think whether, I don’t know if he like kisses a photo of McCain like before he goes to bed at night.

Adam: Possibly.

Natasha Lennard: Maybe he does. I don’t know how like feelings-y it is.

Nima: (Laughs.) There’s a better chance that he does then he doesn’t.

Natasha Lennard: But I mean like, he is the kind of person that I bet like cried a little bit when he saw George Bush give like a candy to Michelle Obama at McCain’s funeral. Like I just, I genuinely think he would find that moving. He’s the kind of person that, he mainly expresses himself through like retweets and it’s all complete dross and boringness and then there’ll be something about a Philly sports thing and then there’ll be like some retweet about like Carter becoming charmingly old. Like he just loves presidents, aside from Trump, like he loves the fact of a president. Um, and so I think that is like a true, he is a conservative liberal, which is like the, uh, I love institutions like I love journalism because journalism is an institution, not because it’s like anything like a, a tool or a weapon. I love it because it’s an institution like the state. I love it because it’s an institution like the CIA and like my wonderful brothers who once did COINTELPRO, like he loves institutions.

Adam: Yeah. One, one of the things that we note is that he hasn’t really done original reporting in probably a decade and he sort of exists as what we reference as sort of, he’s the bouncer for Club Acceptable Opinion, whose job is to sort of keep out what he views as the fringes, like we talk about how he’s, he, he found a seven year old tweet by Macklemore and like scolded him about his 9/11 trutherism, like for hours and did it on Twitter for days, days longer, and it’s like, is this really the most urgent thing facing America right now? But it’s the same with his obsession with Linda Sarsour, which I kind of want to expand a little bit on because he’s obviously very pro-Israel. He’s very open about that. And Linda Sarsour is not. And that seems to be what motivates his hatred of her quite a bit.

Natasha Lennard: Yeah. I mean I think he stands exactly where like, the other person probably the person I in fact hate more than Jake Tapper in the media is Bari Weiss.

Adam: Bari Weiss who by the way has praised Jake Tapper on several occasions.

Natasha Lennard: I bet they both kiss pictures of each other before they go to bed.

Adam: Right.

Natasha Lennard: But um, they definitely have both made a kind of bizarre point to really hate on Assata Shakur through Linda Sarsour, um, because I think Bari Weiss wrote basically the same thing that Jake Tapper was saying and also made a point of saying, which I thought was just hilarious, which was Assata Shakur, I think, better known as Joanne Chesimard. I was like, no, there is not a single person in the world except maybe Bari Weiss and Jake Tapper who think of Assata Shakur by her legal name except perhaps the FBI.

Nima: And accept people who would, you know, try to basically speak disparagingly about Muhammad Ali by still calling him Cassius Clay or you know, Kareem Abdul Jabbar —

Natasha Lennard: Right. It’s racist.

Nima: Like it’s basically like, that’s like a very kind of obvious way to signal what you’re trying to say.

Natasha Lennard: Yeah. It’s to signal that like you think it’s fine if all Black Panthers rot in prison, whether or not they did do the crimes they are convicted of.

Adam: Or god forbid, put those crimes in the context of the time.

Natasha Lennard: Right. Exactly.

Adam: That there was a war on African Americans and that this was not a metaphorical war, that there was people in the streets dying from police brutality.

Natasha Lennard: Right. And that there were assassinations.

Adam: Right.

Natasha Lennard: Countless, countless.

Adam: And that people like Shakur and the Liberation Army that they, that they viewed it as a war and that you could say it’s not or it isn’t, but it wasn’t. This is pursuant to robbery to fund the revolution. This is not gratuitous violence and that, god forbid we even have those conversations.

Natasha Lennard: Oh yeah. No, we can’t even get there. We still have to stay within the remit of, you know, like a liberal rights discourse or something. We can’t even talk about like, justice with these people. Um, but no. So I think Tapper, Tapper is kind of like the whiny child. So is Bari Weiss who need to latch onto something that they can pretend has grounds. So like Linda Sarsour, she’s sort of an easy one.

Adam: Yeah she’s low-hanging fruit.

Natasha Lennard: It’s such a cheap shot and I think, and you can see how banal Jake Tapper’s methods are because he’ll literally just be like, ‘Huh? People asked Trump to show his tax history. So what am I going to do? I know, got it. I’m going to ask Bernie Sanders to do the same thing. I’m a genius.’ Um, and that is literally how you see his brain working out. Like he’s got these two quadrants. And he’s like, ‘Well this one went to the right, so what’s the same but the left? And I’ll ask it like a genius.’

Nima: (Laughing.) Right.

Adam: That’s the thing, is that there’s no, there’s no sense of power asymmetry in any of this.

Natasha Lennard: No.

Adam: Like Macklemore is the same as a decades long effort to smear the first black president by the far-right well funded by millionaires and billionaires. These are the same thing to Jake Tapper and they must be condemned equally.

Natasha Lennard: Have you guys ever lived in DC?

Nima: I have not.

Adam: Thankfully, no.

Natasha Lennard: Cause yeah, I was only there for like ten months. 2010. I weirdly worked for Politico straight after grad school. It didn’t last long as you can imagine. Um, and I like took a massive pay cut to come back to New York.

Adam: Politico? You’ve been in the beast of Tapperisms.

Natasha Lennard: Except I was doing like features. It was very like straight out of grad school, not getting involved stuff. But I think what was instructive about being there even for a little while is how unsurprising it is when people do just like flatten the terrain of politics and extract and forget about ideas of power imbalance. It’s just all this flat plane of people who are walking on the same Capitol Hill marble. I’m not sure I give Tapper even the credit to be rejecting the idea that there are power imbalances. I think he’s just so entrenched in this absurd world and has been for so long that he’s sort of negligently blind to that this is more than realpolitik. Um, and I think you do see that a lot in that swamp in the same way. I wasn’t surprised that it was like investment bankers that caused the financial crash. It’s like, no, these people are not engaging with the hierarchies and power imbalances that they are helping upholding and enact. They’re just not. And I think Tapper is just a product of that. He’s just what happens when you’re so entrenched in a swamp like that for twenty years and it serves you and it gives you awards and it gives you best sellers and it gives you access and you have no reason to question it.

Nima: So just to kind of put a point on it here. So the kind of nexus of Jake Tapper and Bari Weiss. So Bari Weiss, editor and writer for The New York Times opinion section, she has praised Tapper, I mean, directly, it’s not simply that they really, really dig each other, like she has literally said, quote “one of the few people who’s generally watched and respected, at least in my world, by people across the political spectrum.”

Natasha Lennard: Ha! Her world must be horrible.

Nima: Right.

Natasha Lennard: No and I think that’s, and that’s why, you know, he is of that cadre of journalists who are really having the time of their lives right now. You know, like he’s just got this like free for all to double down on, you know, his true love of institutions and the deep state and Islamophobia, um, whilst being able to be, he is like the, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if he co-wrote the anonymous from inside the White House, um, column.

Adam: Right.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Well, one thing I want to talk about is his cynical, what I, what I view as being very cynical and very sort of cheap hitching his brand to the troops. He spent some time in Afghanistan. He, he’s written quite a few books, one of which is The Hellfire Club, which is now being, I think being made into a film or a television show, I forget, which is, you know, a very profitable enterprise. He writes these kinds of middlebrow airport thriller schlock books about the troops and he’s obsessing over the troops. He throws parties for the troops that John McCain goes to. Um, he hitches his brand severely with the troops, which he views as being like deficits in his worship of John McCain as being non political, as being non ideological. It’s something that’s sort of, you know, like gravity. It’s just there. It’s just a thing we have. This, this using the troops to hedge one’s brand to, and Martha Raddatz does this as well, as former ABC colleague who also had, who sold a book to National Geographic to do a television show on her experiences in Iraq. Can we talk about the sort of journalistic practice of, of using the troops as some, as a way of kind of saying something without really offending anyone?

Natasha Lennard: Um, yeah. I mean, it amazes me that it hasn’t, because I mean at various times and various iterations of like US imperial war machining, like that has been more difficult like, you know, nearing the end of the Vietnam War. Like you couldn’t just latch to “the troops” as noncontroversial and right now it seems like there should be, it should be less simple and uncontroversial just to talk about “the troops” given that that’s not just one set of things, it’s not like a blank homogeneous set. And that, you know, there is an interesting discussion right now about, you know, what does it mean to talk about standing up for or kneeling during the national anthem and what does it mean to disrespect or respect the troops? And I just think it’s amazing to me that it’s still such a obvious and noncontroversial thing that if you just say, oh, I’m with the troops, that’s non problematic and I just think that’s the most Tapper thing to do. It’s obviously really cynical because, you know, a lot of vets, especially because you know vets are being treated like shit. A lot of vets don’t necessarily agree with what they have been part of, or what continues to go on. So it’s, I mean, it’s obviously disingenuous for a journalist to latch on and care about “the troops” as if it’s this homogeneous flat plane regardless of what they’re being used for or enacting. And I don’t see anything more interesting than just sort of bland, obvious.

Adam: You touched on banality a lot. I think that’s really the key here. Um, in many ways, which is that like even if one has no problem ideologically that this necessarily leads to a sort of boring type of reporting because you’re not really allowed to have a position enough to have one and when you’re simply reinforcing conventional wisdom, that’s necessarily boring. There’s no original reporting. There’s no sort of revelation of new information. I don’t do original reporting either. I do media analysis, I don’t sort of claim to do original reporting, uh, you know, if I had millions of dollars and I had a multimillion dollar contract maybe we can allocate resources to like finding new things other than having John King sit in front of, you know, the White House podium and repeat what he was just told.

Natasha Lennard: And also I wouldn’t just talk about like “the troops.” It’s a bit like being like, no, I like pizza and I like movies.

Nima: (Chuckles.) Right. Music is a thing that I enjoy.

Adam: The world’s worst Tinder bio.

Natasha Lennard: It’s got a much darker history.

Adam: Yeah.

Natasha Lennard: But like for a Washington journalist, for them to be like, well, you know, what do you like? And you’d be like, ‘oh, I didn’t know. I like institutions and the troops’ it’s like, you’re not saying anything but I don’t think he wants to be saying anything because also essentially he believes in stable, immutable capital ‘T’ Enlightenment Truth and that if you just talk and set the idea of a center and two sides around it, that this truth is somehow not produced or not manufactured but found. And I really think he believes that, which is really sad. But I think a lot of people believe that too. And it’s obviously no accident that these people tend to be already powerful and spouting conventional wisdom that keeps them powerful and doesn’t rock the boat towards a greater struggle for justice, um, as opposed to obviously what actually happens, which is produced, manufactured and upheld in a way that also upholds the power structures that certainly serve people like Tapper and Bari Weiss. And so it’s either, you know, you can either choose between whether it’s grimly cynical and they know exactly what they’re doing or if they’re just truly naive suckers for an unnuanced religious enlightenment philosophy of truth finding, which is incredibly ideological. Um,, it’s hard to tell whether it is cynical or whether it’s stupid or whether it’s, you know, a little bit of both.

Adam: Uh, I think he’s pretty, god damn cynical. And I, and I don’t always say that about people.

Natasha Lennard: I mean, I think they can go together, right?

Adam: Oh, they definitely go together. I’m just, I’m leaning 70/30, cynical/stupid.

Natasha Lennard: Yeah.

Nima: Well, I, I would say, and we can maybe end on this, is that I think his real love for John McCain is a truly animating ideology in itself. I don’t think it’s tangential to who Jake Tapper is. I think that, you know, because that really kind of informed a lot of his journalism while he was at Salon and then has followed through. I mean he is the one who, who truly, when John McCain was being, you know, disrespected by Trump Jake Tapper was leading the charge of just being indignant about that and being so upset that our hero was being disparaged in this way. And I think that it informs not only just his idea of what a statesmen should be, but also this kind of capital ‘T’ Troops worship thing that he has going on all the time.

Natasha Lennard: I mean, it’s his version, funnily enough, is not so different to the Trumpian version of you know “Make America Great Again.” Like that’s his own like daddy issues, nostalgia of, you know, that is what a statesman looks like and this is what it looks like to be upstanding. And remember the good old days of those guys? And obviously they didn’t, didn’t exist, um, as the good old days for anyone. Um, so, you know, he sees himself as a counterpoint by virtue of talking about troops and civility in discourse. But essentially what he longs for isn’t so different from what you know, Trump is pushing for.

Nima: I think that’s a perfect place to leave this. Natasha, before we go though, do you have anything that you want to tell our listeners about? Possibly, I don’t know, something you’ve written that might be coming up soon?

Natasha Lennard: Yes. I wrote a book that you can read very soon. It is a book called Violence: Humans in Dark Times and it was co-written with a philosopher named Brad Evans and it is a series of extended discussions and debates with philosophers and thinkers and artists on the subject of violence and how we might reconceive of it today.

Nima: Yeah. When does it come out?

Natasha Lennard: It should be in November from City Lights.

Nima: Fantastic. Thank you again, Natasha Lennard, contributing writer at The Intercept. You can read her work in The Nation as well, New York Times, Esquire, all over the place. A fantastic journalist and a fantastic guest. So thank you so much Natasha for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Natasha Lennard: Thanks guys, speak to you soon.


Adam: So that was great. I think most people enter the sort of Jake Tapper, hater-land, if you will, everybody has their own unique pathway into it. I think. I think his, his, his weird obsession with punching at random lefties is usually a way people go, well, what’s this guy’s deal? You know, what does he care what Assata Shakur did and what does this have to do with the, you know, a tweet by the Women’s March and why is he policing this? We all have our own entry point. I think we should end, as we talked about, we should end with, with the most Tapperian, other than the Macklemore-gate, the most Tapperian —

Nima: This is McCain-gate. Defense Bill-gate.

Adam: Which is where Trump announced earlier this year, the signing of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Bill, which set aside $716 billion to expand and grow America’s empire. Two year growth of about 11.5 percent, which is the highest since just after 9/11 to create the war machine that’ll continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen, do drone attacks in you know half a dozen countries. But this is not of interest to Mr. Tapper. What was of interest is that Trump did not thank John McCain. This was the great affront that consumed Washington for 48 hours, was that the President, President Trump did not thank McCain whom the bill was named after as he was in his twilight. And this is the great outrage that really completely set Tapper off.

Nima: Exactly. So #Resistance Hero Jake Tapper had no words, zero words, about how much money was just authorized by Congress to further our military adventures, etcetera etcetera. That was a non-issue. The issue is that when Trump announced it, he thanked other people, but not Jake Tapper’s hero.

[Begin Clip]

Jake Tapper: That was President Trump just a few minutes ago thanking a laundry list of people before officially signing the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. One person who wasn’t on that list of people that he thanked, outspoken Trump critic, and the namesake of the bill, Senator John McCain, you know the decorated war hero who was a prisoner of war, continues to serve as a United States Senator, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The bill the president signed, it’s called the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, no mention of him by the president today. Today, McCain took the high road and issued a statement saying, “I’m humbled that my colleagues in Congress chose to designate this bill in my name serving as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and working on behalf of America’s brave service members has been one of the greatest honors of my life.” One person who was clearly thinking of him during the ceremony, his wife, Cindy McCain who tweeted, “I’m so proud of Senator John McCain and his work on NDAA. Incredibly humbled at the naming of this after my husband.” And since President Trump would not do it, let us here on The Lead congratulate Senator John McCain and his family and thank him for his service to the country.

[End Clip]

Adam: Oh god, totally non-ideological right there. One hundred percent objective journalism.

Nima: (Laughs.) So. That is Jake Tapper. That is the most Tapperian Tapperness.

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: Yeah. I think it perfectly sums up what we have been talking about and he’s been doing that for ages. He will continue to do that and he will continue to be praised for doing it. So yeah, Jake Tapper, resistance hero, ur-centrist.

Adam: All around boring human being. Thank you for listening to this rather ad hominem episode of Citations Needed.

Nima: (Laughs.)

Adam: I think we gave it some moral justification. I don’t think we were just being gratuitous, so I think we’re good to leave on that note.

Nima: Yeah, and thank you everyone for listening to the Jake Tapper Experience today on Citations Needed. We’d like to thank all of you for your service to our show, and of course you can follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. Extra special shout out goes to our Critic Level supporters. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our production consultant as Josh Kross. Research assistant is Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thank you so much for listening. Have a good one everyone.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.