Tapper is one of those Washington, D.C.-based journalists with a title that can't be contained to a business card. Perhaps best known as the host of CNN's Sunday morning public affairs talk show "State of the Union," and his weeknight show, "The Lead with Jake Tapper," Tapper also serves as CNN's chief Washington correspondent.
That's a combination Tapper manages with enough skill that in an otherwise-blistering 2013 New York Times read on television news, Tapper was described as a man who "has proved that it’s possible to create an afternoon news show that is intelligent, non-ideological and not horribly boring." And this year, the conservative news and commentary site Breitbart described Tapper as part of a "half-dozen mainstream media reporters whom conservatives and liberals alike trust."
That reputation is perhaps more than a little unlikely, given where Tapper comes from.
Tapper was born in New York and raised in the Philadelphia area by what he has told reporters were a pair of hippy parents. That last part might be debatable; Tapper's mom was a psychiatric nurse, his father a pediatrician and professor. But this much is not: In the early 1990s, before Tapper graduated from his father's Ivy League alma mater, Dartmouth College, Tapper grew his hair long enough to regularly employ a ponytail.
By 1992, Tapper was part of the campaign that helped put family friend and now-former representative Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pa.) in office. Today, Margolies (she stopped using Mezvinsky after a 2007 divorce) might be best known as Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law and a failed 2014 congressional candidate. But in the 1990s, Margolies was a kind of women's-empowerment icon. She was a longtime broadcast journalist who became the first single American woman to adopt a foreign child.
After Margolies lost a 1994 reelection bid, Tapper joined a D.C. public relations outfit for a few years, then put in a short stint at the gun-control organization that would later become the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
One of Tapper's own City Paper-era claims to fame: His date with Monica Lewinsky a few weeks before news of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair took up permanent residence in the nation's headlines. Tapper had just enough insight into Lewinsky to offer one of the earliest semi-empathetic and multi-dimensional portraits of Lewinsky.
Tapper moved to Salon.com and then over to ABC News in 2003. During part of this time, Tapper was also the artistic head and hand behind the comic strip "Capitol Hell." Tapper's politically themed cartoons have also appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times.
Like a lot of reporters, the adult Tapper has a reputation for maintaining a ready reserve of aggression.
In 2009, now-retired ABC newsman Charles Gibson described Tapper as "a little brash at times" but consistently hungry, hardworking and hard to ignore. That's not a bad set of adjectives for a reporter, but they're not always traits that endear Tapper to those facing his questions. That same description probably goes a long way toward explaining how Tapper managed to become ABC News's chief White House correspondent less than a decade after he jumped from Democratic political press aide.
Tapper's career hasn't been all uphill, of course. In both 2010 and 2012, ABC decided against naming Tapper host of that network's Sunday morning politics show, "This Week." (Tapper served as an interim host in 2010.) The tone of a Tapper exchange with Robert Gibbs, Obama's first-term press secretary, as well as the content of a blog post he wrote for ABC News, attracted what Tapper has since described as the wrong kind of attention. Video of the mildly testy exchange with Gibbs lives on You Tube. And Tapper's blog, Political Punch, went on hiatus while Tapper "adjusted" to ABC's editorial style, The Washington Post reported.
His conservative fans likely weren't so pleased when Tapper interviewed the Navy SEAL on whom the feature film "Lone Survivor " is based. Critics said Tapper suggested that the military man's comrades died for nothing when he asked about the potential senselessness of lives lost in America's involvement in Afghanistan. And Tapper, true to form, quickly clapped back on Twitter.
But Tapper clearly gets much of what he does right in the eyes of viewers and other journalists.
Mediaite, an industry-centered Web site, currently lists Tapper as No. 3 on it's TV Reporter "Power Grid," an algorithm of airtime, social media followers, audience size and — most tellingly — more than one type of "buzz." In 2013, the National Headliner Awards recognized Boston Marathon bombing coverage on "The Lead," and the show's look at Oklahoma communities battered by deadly tornadoes. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the White House Correspondents' Association honored Tapper's deadline broadcast reporting work.
Tapper was also part of ABC News teams that won an Emmy for coverage of President Obama's 2009 inauguration and the Edward R. Murrow Award for breaking news coverage of Osama bin Laden's 2011 death. And, he's managed to write three books, the most recent of which made an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list.
Tapper likely prepared for portions of tonight's debate in his office at CNN. As Politico magazine reported, that's a space filled with campaign signs connected to losing campaigns, a Florida voting booth and an infamous butterfly ballot. It's a space designed for a mind preoccupied with politics, megawatt blunders and other moments of ignominy.
Hugh Hewitt: Donald Trump’s newest debate-moderator foil
The list of people Donald Trump has lambasted, ridiculed and publicly derided is notoriously long. And this month, The Donald added another name when he called the much-respected conservative radio host and constitutional law professor Hugh Hewitt a "third-rate announcer," after an interview with Hewitt exposed what would appear to be some significant gaps in Trump's foreign-policy knowledge bank.
On Wednesday night, Hewitt and Trump will face one another again when Hewitt joins two CNN journalists, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, at the moderator's table for the second GOP debate. He'll pose more questions, and some of them will likely be directed at Trump.
To understand why Hewitt's participation in the CNN debate and his round in Trump's dis ring are worth noting, you have to know a little about Hewitt. By most accounts, Hewitt brings something relatively rare to the talk radio space. In the 15 years that "The Hugh Hewitt Show" has been on the air, he has run an often-but-not-always-calm operation, closely monitored by politicos and reporters alike. It's a show where guests can expect tough but typically fair questions that ultimately reveal not just what they think, but how they think. And what they say to Hewitt, more and more, will likely also be reported elsewhere.
Hewitt, 59, is a married father of three and a grandparent. A Harvard-educated lifelong conservative, Nixon loyalist and one-time lawyer in the Reagan White House, Hewitt is straightforward about his political leanings and aims both on- and off-air. He wants to transform the world into what he believes will be a better place by electing conservative pragmatists (he was a serious and early Romney supporter in 2012) and implementing conservative policies.
He's an unabashed member of the ideologically driven journalist corps. But Hewitt also has a reputation for facilitating rich and respectful on-air conversations with guests whose own political loyalties lie far afield from his own. And yet, somehow, he also remains a go-to outlet in good standing with Republican Party officials, candidates and office-holders. In short, Hewitt haters like Trump can be hard to find (except perhaps on Friday morning among Trump supporters).
Hewitt's best friend is Harvard roommate Mark Gearan, who also happens to have been President Bill Clinton's communications director. His University of Michigan law school classmate, Anne Gust, a Democrat and wife of California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), is another. Not to worry, Hewitt graduated cum laude from Harvard and picked up academic honors in law school, too. So, he can certainly hold his own in conversation with liberal friends.
But his connections on the right are also deep-rooted. Just out of college, Hewitt helped a then-recently disgraced Nixon research a book, and he clerked for the likes of judges Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia. He also put in time with the non-conservative judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Scalia and Ginsburg, of course, now sit on the Supreme Court; Bork was unsuccessfully nominated. And during his tenure in the Reagan White House, Hewitt worked alongside the now-U.S. chief justice, John Roberts. Hewitt also served as deputy director and general counsel of the Reagan administration's Office of Personnel Management and general counsel for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Hewitt describes himself as a national-security obsessive who shares the very Reagan belief that a big and well-equipped military will dissuade attacks but that the country should also stand constantly ready for actual war.
Hewitt's show's guest lineup has already included many of the men and one woman vying for the GOP nomination in 2016. But the famed leftist constitutional scholar, lawyer and law professor, Erwin Chemerinsky -- Hewitt's colleague at the nearby University of California at Irvine law school -- is also a show regular, as was the late Christopher Hitchens before his death in 2011. This week alone, Hewitt has interviewed Republican presidential contender Lindsey O. Graham, the senator from South Carolina, and twice questioned fellow candidate Carly Fiorina.
The range of ideas to which Hewitt is regularly exposed and his clear capacity for deep and original thought also make him an interviewer for whom guests should always prepare. The thing about Hewitt's questions -- the thing that Trump's masterful publicity machine almost certainly was aware -- is that little that's said on Hewitt's show stays there. Hewitt might not run a show for those who like their entertainment with a side of politics. He certainly has a audience considerably smaller than conservative radio giants like Rush Limbaugh. But Hewitt and his staff have perfected the art of making what they do news and being a go-to for serious political watchers.
Hewitt's Southern California-based show not only attracts top-tier guests, but it makes accurate transcripts -- documents that include not just the questions asked and every bit of the answer, but the context in which those questions were posed and an easily accessible headline -- available online not long after the show. They dispatch those same transcripts to political reporters all over the country in short order. And when there's something that's newsworthy, it gets written about.
The list of ready excuses when an interview does not go according to a campaign's plan can grow awfully short and thin when people can read not just all the details of one interview (click here for the Trump interview transcript) but most of Hewitt's interviews for themselves, online. It also probably does not hurt that Hewitt has a son working in the Republican National Committee's press office, has written several books and writes weekly columns for the Washington Examiner and Townhall.com.
In 2006, when the New Yorker wanted to profile Hewitt, Hewitt struck a deal with the reporter assigned the piece, Nicholas Lemann. He would participate in Lemann's profile if Lemann, then dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, would let Hewitt follow and write about him for the Weekly Standard. What emerged was a pretty nuanced take on the state of journalism and its institutions, including the revered J-school. Of course, Hewitt, a member of the right-wing with pride media, couldn't resist a little dancing on what he saw as the stately grave of mainstream media. In his 2005 piece in the New Yorker, perhaps the country's most celebrated magazine covering the whole range of politics, public affairs and culture, Lemann called Hewitt "the most famous conservative journalist whom liberals have never heard of."
If Hewitt's show, broadcast on 120 stations across the country every weekday, hasn't been enough to change that, a turn in the Trump ridicule chair and the CNN debate probably will.
Dana Bash: A low-key moderator who doesn't want to be the story
In the days after "Fox News" host Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump during the first Republican primary debate if his history of publicly ridiculing and sexually objectifying women qualified him to be president, Kelly became the subject of at least as many headlines as The Donald.
The moderators could again be at issue in the second GOP debate on Wednesday, but Bash would seem an unlikely storyline come Thursday morning. And that's how she prefers it.
Bash, unlike Kelly and fellow CNN debate moderators Jake Tapper and Hugh Hewitt, comes to the debate moderator's table not as a partisan talker, high-profile anchor or former political aide, but as a longtime reporter with a long history of hard-nosed coverage on a string of Washington, D.C.- centered, typically male-reporter-dominated beats: Congress. The State Department. Large domestic appropriations and programs, such as Social Security.
Bash has operated inside the bowels and brain of political reporting, but unlike Tapper, Hewitt and Kelly, she does not host her own show or have her own time slot to protect and promote. Right now, Bash serves as CNN's chief political correspondent and has been responsible for covering the U.S. House and Senate since 2006. She's climbed a long way up the CNN political news ladder.
Later, Bash became producer of now-defunct weekend public affairs shows. As the 1990s became the 2000s, she took on more responsibility and became an assignment editor helping to determine coverage priorities for reporters and producers and how to best use news-gathering resources, then a field producer on Capitol Hill. During the 2008 presidential election, Bash covered several of the Republican primary contenders and broke the news that Mitt Romney would suspend his campaign (before running again in 2012 and becoming the GOP nominee). Bash also served as CNN's White House correspondent during George W. Bush's tenure.
An open secret in TV news is that producers often conduct interviews and certainly gather a good share -- and in some cases absolutely all -- of the information presented to viewers by on-air reporters. So while Bash's on-air tenure is relatively brief compared with co-moderators Hewitt and Tapper, her reporting experience and sourcing run deep. Remember, before Bash ever reported on-air, she spent years behind the camera producing and overseeing the editorial content of CNN's Capitol Hill coverage, reporting on complex topics, such as Social Security and Medicare, the 2000 presidential primaries, national political conventions and the State Department, spearheading longer interviews with newsmakers, foreign heads of state and others.
In 2002 and again in 2010, the National Press Foundation recognized Bash's congressional coverage with a Dirksen Award. And in 2009, Bash was part of a CNN team that won a Peabody Award, the broadcast equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, for coverage of the 2008 campaign.
And there have also likely been some disappointments inside Bash's longtime professional home. When CNN named her chief political correspondent this year -- a role retiring newswoman Candy Crowley had long held in tandem with hosting responsibilities on CNN's Sunday morning public affairs show, "State of The Union" -- Bash got the title, but Tapper got the Sunday show.
Understand, Bash is not an anachronistic industry holdover, pecking out hard-won scoops in dank press workrooms while other TV reporters live a more glamorous life. She's a serious reporter, to be sure. But she tweets (with lots of exclamation points!), and she cooperates with limited personal profiles like a May story in The Hill that revealed her not-at-all-unusual childhood career plans.
Bash apparently dreamed of becoming a rock star until her brother informed her that singing did not rank among her talents. She told the reporter little, saying politics was the thing she liked and loathed most about D.C. and confessed to the habit of always carrying snacks in her bag. And she explained that her parents had clear intentions when they named her Dana (pronounced like banana), so they are supremely displeased when people routinely call her DAY-na.
So, it's also fair to say that the all-consuming modern task of building one's brand probably doesn't rank high on Bash's daily to-do list. Checking in with sources, gathering the info to scoop other reporters and delivering the kind of granular news about congressional machinations do. And, she apparently likes it that way; Bash told JW magazine that her work gives her an opportunity to "cover everything. When you report on Wall Street and health-care reform … what could be more relevant to people’s lives?”