Weeks before the launch of his CNN show “The Lead” last March, host Jake Tapper began pushing hard for an interview with President Obama. At first, he lobbied for an Obama appearance for the show’s debut. That didn’t work.
Oh well. He just kept bugging the White House. “Oh yeah, e-mails and phone calls — constant requests, constant pitches,” Tapper tells the Erik Wemple Blog, noting that he often tried to tailor the offensives to news trends. “Hey, would you like to talk about this, would you like to talk about that?”
Yes, came the response from the White House quite recently. CNN announced last night that Tapper had secured the first post-State of the Union exclusive interview with President Obama, the results of which will air on CNN’s “New Day” on Friday morning and during Tapper’s show that afternoon.
Great outcome, though Tapper professes that he doesn’t know just what prompted it. “The truth is I don’t know what the winning argument was. Either persistence paid off, the stars aligned or whatever,” he says. (Efforts to get comment from the White House were unsuccessful).
Now comes the challenge of handling the commander in chief in an atmosphere where he feels in command. According to Martha Joynt Kumar, a Towson University professor who tracks presidential transparency, Obama conducted 700 interviews between his 2009 inauguration and the end of April 2013 — a tally that far outpaces those of his immediate predecessors. Through all those sitdowns, Obama has built the fame of a man skilled at using the sessions to pound on his pet agenda items. “I think a lot of politicians do it, and I think President Obama is a chief practitioner of it,” says Tapper, who thinks he’ll likely have a 15-minute session and perhaps a five-minute walk-and-talk.
Interrupt him, Tapper.
CNN has been aggressive in promoting the interview, which, as it happens, comes a couple of days before rival Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly sits down with President Obama on Super Bowl Sunday. Tapper, among the most competitive fellows around, surely relishes this sequencing, right? “The competitive part of it didn’t enter my mind till I started reading tweets and blogs about it,” he says. The format and time limitations, he suggests, minimize the advantage of getting the first post-SOTU chance with the president. “There’s a lot of serious questions to ask,” says Tapper. “There will be plenty left over for Bill on Sunday when he gets his chance.”