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Covering Obama, Pushy Jake Tapper Presses His Points

(By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009; Page C01

One year after joining ABC News, Jake Tapper kept pushing his bosses -- "annoyingly, irritatingly, incessantly," he says -- to let him cover the unfolding 2004 presidential campaign.

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"I might not have been ready," he admits now. "I hadn't paid my dues."

Patience is not Tapper's strong suit. "He's one of the hungriest reporters I've run across," anchor Charlie Gibson says. "He bombards us with e-mail, and it's all about stuff he's reporting. . . . He can be a little brash at times."

That brashness has now catapulted the 39-year-old correspondent to the coveted White House beat, the biggest stage yet for a man who bounced around politics, public relations and the Web before setting his sights on television. Tapper, who has already clashed publicly with press secretary Robert Gibbs, has been outspoken in his view that many in the media have been too soft on Barack Obama.

"Certain networks, newspapers and magazines leaned on the scales a little bit," he says over a vanilla latte at Starbucks. Obama's attractive qualities, he says, have prompted some editors and producers "to root for him."

Tapper is part of a new network contingent -- including Chip Reid at CBS and Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie at NBC -- that is helping set the tone for coverage of the Obama White House. Tapper, who started out covering the Republican candidates, says he wanted to be assigned to the Obama campaign, as he was last June, "because I thought he was probably going to win." He was the second-most-visible network correspondent last year, logging 313 minutes on air, trailing only Andrea Mitchell's 355 minutes at NBC.

His sharp tongue, and sharp elbows, have made Tapper a presence in the pressroom. While he rubs certain colleagues the wrong way, most respect his hard-charging style.

"He's not one of the wussy, blow-dried TV reporters," says conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, a longtime friend. "He's definitely savvy and aggressive, in a good way. He's tough enough to handle network politics."

Tapper devotes considerable attention to his ABC blog, Political Punch, where he broke the story of Tom Daschle's tax problems. He also complained to journalists who picked up the story without crediting him.

Last year, Tapper blogged that he had once run into Obama and the candidate "reeked of cigarettes." The campaign denied that he had resumed smoking, but when Obama admitted on MSNBC that he "fell off the wagon a couple of times," Tapper wrote that the issue was "minuscule. . . . Except that I don't like feeling that I wasn't being dealt with honestly."

The once-cheeky blog, which he briefly suspended while adjusting to what an ABC spokeswoman called a "rigorous editorial process," now seems rather tame. "I have had my struggles achieving the right tone," Tapper says. "It's not always easy for a mainstream organization to accept what a blog is."

A dust-up at a briefing with Gibbs last month became a Web sensation. Tapper asked whether reporters could get disclosure forms and ethics waivers for administration nominees. Given Obama's rhetoric, he said, "I'm sure it's something he'd want to do."


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