Jake Tapper Takes ‘The Lead’ in Talk at Barrack

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CNN anchor and Akiba Hebrew Academy alum Jake Tapper will retrace his steps when he speaks at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy's upcoming Gala event.

From his modest beginnings as the editor of Akiba Hebrew Academy’s high school newspaper to becoming a well-known CNN news anchor, Jake Tapper has witnessed quite a bit during his journalism career.

His coverage of last summer’s Gaza War, the happenings in Ferguson, Mo., and the January shootings in Paris are just some of the unfolding news stories Tapper has tackled recently.


He will retrace his steps on March 18 as the guest speaker at a Gala event for his former high school, now called the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, in Bryn Mawr.

The Jewish Exponent caught up with Tapper, 45, from Akiba’s class of ’87, for a phone interview to discuss his career, views on Israel and childhood memories. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

One of the things that has meant the most to me in terms of my reporting has been the book I wrote on Afghanistan that came out a couple years ago called The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor.

In terms of the last few years journalistically, it’s been exciting to go to places where the news is breaking, however horrific and upsetting the stories have been — going to Boston after the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon; or going to Moore, Okla., a small town that was devastated by a tornado in 2013; or going to Ferguson, Mo.; or going to Israel during the recent war with Gaza, or going to Paris in January to cover the terror attacks there. All of those have been really enjoyable and the kind of on-the-street, at-the-scene interviews and reporting that I really love. Just being there, not being at a distance.

There’s nothing like talking to people at the scene of the crime or disaster, or getting the sense of danger, the sense of fear among a people, whether it’s Jerusalem or Ferguson or Paris. You get elements of the story that are tougher to get when you’re behind the anchor desk.

How, if at all, has your Jewish background informed or influenced your reporting?

It doesn’t inform my reporting in the sense of the politics. My background, coming from a community where there has historically been a culture of education and debate and people trying to see the other side of the story, that has influenced me a great deal. The humanitarian concerns — when I was at what was then called Akiba Hebrew Academy, charity work and humanitarian work was encouraged all the time — have had an impact on me.

But it hasn’t had an impact on me in terms of covering stories the way that I would cover any other stories. When I go to Israel to report, I’m there as an American journalist; I am not there as anything else.

With the backdrop of Israel’s 2014 summer war with Ha­mas, Netanyahu’s speech before Congress and the Israeli elections set for mid-March, what’s your take on current U.S.-Israel relations?

It’s fair to say that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are not particularly fond of one another, and don’t share the same perspective when it comes to issues having to deal with Israel.

When I was the White House correspondent for ABC News (from 2003 to 2010), I saw this relationship disintegrate time after time; whether it was President Obama getting lectured by Netanyahu in the Oval Office or Netanyahu being made to enter the White House through one of the side doors instead of the front door, and I can go on and on; it has been fascinating to watch and to ask the White House questions about it.  

That’s the fun part about being in this job. I’m not advocating for one side or another — I get to challenge the decisions no matter what.

Do you have any sense how the Israeli elections will play out and how they will affect Israel’s future relations with America?

I have no sense, and the polling has been confusing. I made an assertion on my show yesterday that Netanyahu would probably win, and a member of my family immediately made a $20 bet with me that I was wrong, so who knows?

The American-Israeli relationship, as Aaron David Miller, a Mideast analyst, said on the show yesterday, is “too big to fail.” There is much there in terms of cooperation and shared values that goes way beyond the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama. But anybody in Israel who thinks the American commitment to Israel is something to be taken for granted would be mistaken. There is a strong isolationist, or at least non-interventionist, feeling that is growing in this country on both the right and the left after this decade or so of war.

I don’t know how long it will be, but I would not be surprised if within your lifetime or my lifetime we have a major American political party nominee for president who is far less supportive of Israel than the public is used to seeing.

I’m not celebrating that fact, it’s just there. I know that those people who advocate for the Israeli-American relationship to stay strong in America know that. Sometimes I do wonder how much policy makers in Israel know that.

Do you have a favorite Akiba memory?

I have a lot. I had a great group of friends. It’s such a small school with so many opportunities that there’s so many great things you can do. I loved scoring a basket when we won the championship game (in the winter of 1986), even if I only played in the last two minutes of the game.

Being student body president was a lot of fun. My vice president was Harold Messinger, who is a cantor in the Philly area now, and my treasurer was Uri Monson, who is the chief financial officer of Montgomery County. Those guys were good friends of mine and it was fun running the student government with them, however dorky that sounds.

There are a bunch of great teachers there. We had a history re-enactment project in Harold “Doc” Gorvine’s class and I was picked to be FDR, and others in the class were picked to be senators and members of Congress, etc. My challenge was to get the U.S. into World War II, and I used that Lend-Lease (an act FDR used to supply the Allies before officially entering the war) — I got the U.S. into World War II before the end of the week.

Oh look, Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) is on CNN right now; he was my junior counselor at Ramah.

What does it mean to you to be asked to speak at the upcoming Barrack Gala event?

It’s nice because I was kind of a wiseass as a kid and didn’t always have the best relationship with the faculty, which I’m sure was 100 percent my fault.

I was asked to speak at the 2012 graduation, so that was quite an honor.

I can’t believe anybody would pay to listen to me talk when I do it for free every day at 4 o’clock, but it’s quite an honor and it’s nice that they’re proud of me.

What do you miss most about Philly?

I miss Philly a lot, I love Philly. If I could figure out a way to make the center of the political world Philadelphia again, as it was during the early days of this country, I would in a second. I like Washington, D.C., a lot and it’s very livable and this looks like it’s going to be my home, but I always miss Philadelphia because it’s such a great city and the people there are just so unique and interesting.

And obviously I still root for the Eagles and Phillies.

“An Evening With Jake Tapper” begins at 5:30 p.m. on March 18. For tickets go to jbha.org/gala.
 

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