“The most powerful man in the world is trying to undermine us. We need to be purer than pure.”
In an appearance at the LBJ Presidential Library, the ‘us’ Jake Tapper of CNN was talking about are journalists. “The fake news phenomenon is hideous,” he said, “but journalists don’t understand how fragile our credibility is. We need to rise to this moment.”
Tapper was in Austin to promote his new book, The Hellfire Club; he was interviewed by LBJ Foundation chairman Mark Updegrove. A departure from his previous non-fiction books, this is a novel that is the result of nearly 4 years of work. “It was really fun to write something fun to escape from the political world,” he said with some relief. But it is only a departure from current politics; as the book is set in 1954, Tapper writes about real-world characters such as Senators McCarthy and Lyndon Johnson.
His original intention was to set the novel in the late 1700s, “but I could not credibly write for John Adams,” he admitted. “What I wanted to capture in this book is how it happens a person finds himself neck-deep in swamp water. In order to get enough money, people enter into agreements with machine bosses, and then start doing things that are illegal.”
The parallels with the current situation in Washington are obvious, “where truthful hyperbole is something the rest of us call lies. The utter and complete disregard for the truth,” said Tapper, “is indecent. There is no shame – they don’t care. It’s something to behold.”
In relating how he got into the news business, Tapper said it was “because people were not writing what I wanted to read.” Now it is very different: “people are not asking the questions I want asked.” At least he can ask the questions he wants every day on his CNN program, but the answers don’t necessarily contain truth.
“Trump is undermining the concept of empirical fact,” he said. “What Trump does is try to divide us. Is Trump’s America the new norm? This is the American experiment – we don’t know how it ends.”