CNN’s senior political anchor Jake Tapper defended his network’s decision to stage a town hall with Donald Trump earlier this year — breaking with some of his own colleagues who criticized then-network boss Chris Licht for giving the former president a platform to make claims about election fraud.
When asked by podcaster Kara Swisher how journalists should cover Trump, Tapper responded: “As he is.”
“We cover him as he is,” Tapper said, noting that Trump has “as good a chance as anyone of becoming the next president of the United States.”
“He’s the leading Republican nominee, and he says things that are not true. But we have to cover him, we can’t ignore him,” the host of CNN’s daily news show “The Lead” told Swisher.
Tapper’s comments were reported by the news site Mediaite.
“We can’t pretend he’s not there, we can’t pretend he’s not leading in the polls for his party’s nomination,” Tapper, 54, said.
“We have to explain why, we have to talk about the issues that people find compelling.”
Tapper’s comments are at odds with those made by network stars such as Christiane Amanpour, who confronted Licht for the decision to stage the town hall.
Tapper told Swisher: “Is a town hall where voters get to ask him questions, the moderator gets to ask follow-ups, is that in the public’s interest?”
“I am of the opinion that it is.”
Tapper also disputed the claim that the town hall amounted to a “rally” for Trump, particularly in light of the fact that many of his supporters were in the studio audience and loudly cheered and applauded as the former president butted heads with CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins.
“Well, that wasn’t a Trump rally, that was a group of, as we do for all of our town halls, Republican and Republican-leaning independents from that state, in this case New Hampshire,” Tapper said.
“Just as we’d do for [President] Joe Biden, it would be Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents for Iowa or South Carolina or wherever.”
Tapper also wondered why people would be “offended” by Trump supporters applauding during the event.
“Oh, but they were behaving like this, they were behaving like that,” Tapper said, summarizing the criticism of those in attendance.
“The questions I would have, and I say this truly with all due respect, what are you offended by? The airing of it or the existence of it? … Is it the airing of it or the existence of those people?”
The Trump town hall was a watershed event that led many CNN staffers to turn against Licht, who was fired last month by corporate parent Warner Bros. Discovery following a disastrous Atlantic magazine profile that portrayed him as thin-skinned, paranoid, and aloof.
Licht, who was given a mandate to move CNN away from left-leaning commentary and editorializing, was replaced on an interim basis by a triumverate of executives including Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, and Eric Sherling.
Tapper told Swisher that “things are really good right now” at CNN and that morale “hasn’t been better in years” since Licht’s ouster.
Tapper said that CNN was on track to reclaim the old mantle of being “the only non-partisan, non-ideological 24-hour cable news network.”