It doesn’t feel good to have your reporting labeled “fake news” by the man who is about to become president of the United States.
Immediately following Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect last week, CNN’s Jake Tapper defended his cable-news network over charges that it had misled the public by reporting on the existence of an unverified document that U.S. intelligence officials had presented to both President-elect Trump and President Obama.
While BuzzFeed published a copy of the dossier, which contained details of compromising information that the Russians supposedly have on Trump, CNN did not. It was a distinction that Tapper made abundantly clear during an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers Monday.
As Tapper explained, the officials who briefed Trump “didn’t know if the information was real” but they “wanted him to know about it, that it was out there, because they thought it potentially affected national security.” He also gave Meyers credit for being the first to get a member of the Trump transition team on record when he confronted Kellyanne Conway about the allegations last week.
“You explained it great, you had all the details perfectly right,” Tapper told Meyers. “I wish I could say the same about everyone else who followed us in our reporting, but you were exactly on target.” Conway, of course, denied that Trump knew anything about it.
Speaking on behalf of CNN and his reporting, which Meyers said has been conflated with BuzzFeed’s, Tapper said he’s been “yelled at” by both presidents and press secretaries before. “But I’ve never seen the effort to delegitimize an organization for a story that you don’t like that has been proven,” he said, noting that “every word of the story that we reported last Tuesday has been proven correct.”
“He was obviously trying to get us to stop focusing on the story and just to discredit all of us, and, you know, that’s too bad,” Tapper said of Trump. “It’s not a huge shock that he would try to do that. It’s one of the reasons that I wasn’t happy about BuzzFeed doing what it did, in addition to the fact that I thought it was irresponsible to put these uncorroborated rumors out there. I mean, that’s not reporting, that’s just publishing.”
Tapper went on to say that the idea that the White House press corps might “work as one unit” to combat the Trump administration is “a little fanciful, because we compete against each other.” But, he added, “if a reporter asks a legitimate question and doesn’t get an answer” and then Trump or his press secretary tries to call on someone else to change the subject, the press corps as a whole shouldn’t let them get away with that.
If everyone refused to ask Trump questions when he bans someone like Tapper’s colleague Jim Acosta, then, they joked, we might only get the “Trump Magazine” version of the story. As much as he wanted to try to avoid making a false equivalency, Tapper compared Trump’s actions to the moment when the Obama White House “went to war against Fox News and they tried to say that the entire organization was illegitimate.”
“It was this entire organization, including hundreds of reporters and producers who are just doing honest work,” Tapper said. “When they were doing that I challenged them for that—specifically because it's an important principle to stand up for. We’re all supposed to be in this together.”
“If you’re with an organization that’s not CNN and you watch them just destroy us or try to destroy us, just because they don’t like the story, which, is again, proven to be completely true, then you’re next,” he added.