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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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In 1998, while working for the group Handgun Control, Tapper was pondering an offer from Washington City Paper when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. This was of more than passing interest to Tapper, who weeks earlier had gone on a date with the suddenly notorious White House intern. He turned that brief encounter into a cover story -- and a job -- at City Paper.

"I feel bad for poor Monica and feel unclean adding my feeble barnacle to her ship of fame. . . . That said, let the whoring begin," he wrote.

"To be brutally honest, I got with her because I figured that behind her initial aggressiveness lurked an easy, perhaps winning, bit of no-frills hookup," he wrote, but he dropped her off after their dinner with "a very innocent goodbye."

Tapper regards his year at City Paper as an invaluable boot camp where he spent part of his time "screwing up and getting yelled at."

A year later, Tapper joined Salon, the liberal Web magazine, as a Washington correspondent. "He was incredibly productive," editor Joan Walsh says. "He wrote constantly. You would hear from him in the middle of the night if he thought a headline misrepresented his story."

There were other kinds of clashes as well. "Sometimes he wasn't as liberal as his San Francisco editors wanted him to be," Walsh says. "He wasn't ideological. Other people wanted him to go more in the direction of hitting Republicans harder."

That was true during the endless bus rides of John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. Tapper occasionally wrote critical stories -- one involved McCain referring to his Vietnamese captors as "gooks" -- but also reveled in the bantering atmosphere.

"Jake is a very good reporter, and fun to be around," says longtime McCain adviser Mark Salter. "There were plenty of times I got a little vexed with him. But you always knew he was an equal-opportunity reporter. We'd argue -- sometimes on the telephone, usually in a long chain of e-mails -- and if you made a good point he'd recognize it. You knew he never came with an agenda."

Tapper was less enamored of candidate George W. Bush, writing about "the media curiously refusing to shine a light on the things Bush doesn't seem to know or understand. . . . He's been spoiled by a press corps that has generally been intimidated or lazy or fawning." Tapper decided after that campaign to underline his neutrality by no longer voting in presidential elections.

He soon branched out, writing a book on the Florida recount and becoming a presence on cable news. He co-hosted a Saturday night show on CNN called "Take Five" and did a stint as a reporter for VH1.

When Tapper made it to ABC, Peter Jennings was among those who tutored him. "Peter was an exacting guy," Tapper recalls. "He offered tips in his inimitable style." These included sartorial criticisms, with Jennings once telling Tapper, "That's an unusually elegant tie for you."

During the same period, Tapper made the gossip columns by dating Kate Shindle, a former Miss America. The romance didn't last, and during the 2004 campaign he met his future wife, Jennifer Brown, a field coordinator for Planned Parenthood. They now have a 18-month-old daughter, Alice.

Tapper, who festoons his Facebook page with baby pictures, says his network career has had a "horrible" impact on his family life. "I wouldn't be able to be here," he says, "if it weren't for Jen and her complete understanding of this job and my drive."

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