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Media Notes: Jake Tapper, ABC's New Man at the White House

(By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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"Knowing of your crystal clarity on his opinion, I'll certainly check," Gibbs said with a smile.

"He doesn't believe in transparency?" Tapper shot back, dead serious. When Gibbs asked whether he had another, more pertinent question, Tapper said: "I think that's fairly pertinent. You don't?" Gibbs said he obviously did.

In retrospect, Tapper says, his "tone" made him the story, rather than the administration's promises of transparency. "I learned a lesson from it," he says.

Gibbs writes off the exchange as "a little miscommunication" and says they have "moved on. . . . Obviously, Jake is a very smart reporter and does his job very well. I understand that involves tough questions."

Politicians enjoy poking him back. When Tapper recently bumped into Hillary Clinton and asked which of her titles over the years was her favorite, she said, "I prefer any of them to what we call you when you're not around."

Gibson, among others, likens Tapper to Sam Donaldson, and the onetime White House correspondent praises his work. Once, when he called Tapper twice to check on when a White House photo would become available -- the second time, Donaldson admits, with irritation in his voice -- Tapper replied, "I told you we're working on it, and we are!"

"There's none of this 'Oh, how's the wife and children?' He's very intense," Donaldson says. "He's not a glad-hander, a backslapper."

Tapper doesn't shout questions, but he can be direct. During the Democratic primaries, Tapper asked Obama about what he called "an attempt by conservatives and Republicans to paint you as unpatriotic." He rattled off examples: "That you didn't put your hand over your heart during the national anthem, that you no longer wear an American flag on your lapel pin, that you met with some former members of the Weather Underground, and now they are questioning your wife's comments when she said she hasn't been proud of the U.S. until just recently."

Some liberals were not pleased. "I get a lot of heat from the left, which is bizarre," Tapper says, given that many conservatives regard him as a "left-wing stooge" for having previously worked for Salon. "I get a lot of heat from the right, too, but the vitriol is from the left."

A Philadelphia native who describes himself as the son of " '60s hippies" -- a pediatrician and a psychiatric nurse -- Tapper graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy before heading to Dartmouth. He was a garden-variety liberal in college, sporting an earring and a ponytail. Tapper also became a cartoonist for the student paper, drawing such characters as a woman who rips out a man's heart while breaking up with him.

After a semester at the University of Southern California's film school, he became the spokesman for a family friend, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, during her successful 1992 campaign for a House seat. Tapper worked for the Democratic congresswoman on the Hill, but "didn't like being in politics, and I wasn't particularly good at it."

He spent three years as a publicist for the firm Powell Tate, flacking for such clients as Hooters. Tapper also freelanced for The Washington Post, holding forth on such topics as "Stairmaster butt" and how caller ID "has single-handedly changed the rules of romance."

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