Jake Tapper Of ABC News Plays Not My Job
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask interesting and knowledgeable people about something they know nothing about.
SAGAL: Jake Tapper is the longtime Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News. He is the author of the extraordinarily interesting and terrifying new book, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor." Jake Tapper, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
JAKE TAPPER: It's great to be here, thank you.
SAGAL: So, Jake, for the new book, you spent a lot of time around soldiers in Afghanistan. Is it intimidating being around those guys?
TAPPER: It was very humbling just because, you know, the toughest day I'll have is check tots, speaking too loudly when I'm trying to do a live shot, or, you know, the makeup gets on my collar. My makeup.
SAGAL: Media is hell, Jake.
TAPPER: Yeah, I know. Or the wakeup calls, oh, the wakeup call.
SAGAL: Do you ever - I mean, again, and I refer to my own much more limited experience, do you ever find yourself coming up with things that might match their exploits? Like you would say, for example, "Well, you know, you guys might have fought this terrifying war in the far side of the world, but I dated Monica Lewinsky?
TAPPER: No, it was one nice dinner date and it was certainly nothing...
SAGAL: See, here's the thing...
ADAM FELBER: You were saying that.
SAGAL: Everybody thought I was kidding, but I'm not kidding.
TAPPER: I did go on one date with her before the story broke. It was one of the most...
SAGAL: It was before the story broke but after the story happened, if you know what I mean.
TAPPER: Yeah, it was very surreal.
TAPPER: It was definitely one of the most surreal moments, especially for a journalist. I had gone out to dinner with her. She seemed like a nice girl. She was moving to New York. She seemed very eager to get out of Washington, DC.
SAGAL: Can't imagine why.
TAPPER: I wasn't really sure what was going on. She seemed a little naïve, but, you know, a lovely girl, nice, whatever. And then I went on vacation with my dad and I was in the shack that passes for an airport in Little Cayman. My dad and I went scuba diving.
And there was the local newspaper, the Caymanian Compass, and it was the story about, you know, the White House rocked by this scandal and there was - oh my god.
SAGAL: This must get you, to this day, pride of place in the White House Press Room, right?
TAPPER: You know, it's so long ago and so many years ago that people don't really talk about it much.
SAGAL: Ah, I do.
TAPPER: Or at least not when I'm around.
BRIAN BABYLON: She never forgot the date. Man, she still thinks about you, man.
BABYLON: She never forgot how nice you were.
SAGAL: So, Jake, you...
FELBER: I finally meet a nice guy and it's too late. I got to leave town.
SAGAL: I can tell we're not going to do anything else. Let's just go through...
SAGAL: No, I'm not going to do that. I did want to talk to you, because it's amazing, you wrote for the Washington City paper and then Salon and you worked your way up to I think the extremely impressive position of chief White House correspondent for ABC News. When you got that role, was there like a ceremonial passing over of Sam Donaldson's hair to you? How does that work?
TAPPER: No, he's still got it.
SAGAL: That's his. He's not letting...
TAPPER: No, I mean it's a great chair; it's a great honor. I mean, it's a demanding job and everything. Sometimes I forget where I am, and, you know, we all have our impressions of the President that we do.
SAGAL: Wait a minute, you don't mean like an impression like "I feel he's a serious man who has a problem connecting." You mean like here's my Barack Obama impression, listen up.
TAPPER: Right, like much more Rich Little-esque.
SAGAL: All right. Well, now you've pitched that...
TAPPER: Well, my only point is that he came into the pressroom, and without even thinking, I said "hello, everybody," which is what he says every time he walks in.
TAPPER: And I kind of forgot that all the cameras were on. "Hello, everybody." And he looked at me and he smiled and he goes, "That's pretty good."
FELBER: And that was pretty good right there.
SAGAL: You know, we sit around and make jokes about you guys in the White House Press Corps and what you do, but I imagine it's somewhat intimidating to stand up on live national TV when he does one of his press conferences, and challenge the president. Do you ever feel a little nervous? You've done it not just with President Obama but you asked questions of President Bush as well, right?
TAPPER: It's a little intimidating, but it's also our job. And it's also - I mean, I think most of us are the kinds of people who, you know, like being annoying in that way.
SAGAL: Have you ever been yelled at? I remember Brian Williams once told us a story of getting a phone call from a very angry President Clinton about something that Brian had reported. Have you ever gotten anger response from any of these powerful people you've reported on?
TAPPER: Sure, all the time.
SAGAL: I mean, do they get in your face and they yell at you?
TAPPER: They mainly - you know, they mainly release the hounds kind of thing.
TAPPER: It's mainly their people. One time, I was walking - you know, one of the cool things about working at the White House is that you do tend to be able to bump into people in positions of power. And Security Clinton had just gotten the job as Secretary of State, so this is early on.
And I ran into her and I said, "Oh, Senator Clinton. I'm sorry, I mean Secretary Clinton, how are you? It's funny, which honorific do you prefer? Do you prefer Senator or do you prefer Madame Secretary?" And she said, "I'd prefer either of them to what we call you when you're not around."
AMY DICKINSON: Whoa.
DICKINSON: Which makes me...
FELBER: That's a good one.
DICKINSON: That's make me think, Jake, like the cabinet is impersonating you guys.
FELBER: I'm Jake Tapper.
SAGAL: Oh, I'm Jake Tapper. Hey Monica, nice beret, you know.
TAPPER: They probably do.
SAGAL: Well, Jake Tapper, we are delighted to talk to you, but we have invited you here to play a game we're calling?
CARL KASELL: It's Mister Bojangles to you.
SAGAL: So, you're named Tapper, but you're a reporter. That makes no sense. So we thought we'd ask you three questions about an actual tapper, Bill Bojangles Robinson, who some say was one of the greatest tap dancers ever. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners: Carl's voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is Jake Tapper playing for?
KASELL: He is playing for Andrew Rossow from Northfield, Minnesota
SAGAL: All right, you ready to go, Jake?
TAPPER: I am.
SAGAL: Here we go, your first question. Bill Bojangles Robinson was one of the greatest tap dancers in history but he also had another distinction. What was it? A: he invented the sport of greyhound racing? B: He held the record for the backwards 75-yard dash? Or C: He introduced Thai food to the American public?
TAPPER: I'll go with B.
SAGAL: You're going to go with B: he held the record for the backwards 75 yard dash.
SAGAL: That's true.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: He could run backwards very fast.
FELBER: So who did bring us Thai food?
SAGAL: I imagine a very large number of Thai people.
SAGAL: That would be my guess.
FELBER: Brought it all the way from the old country.
SAGAL: Yeah, exactly. All right, second question. Bojangles most famous routine, of course, was the stair dance. You've seen him do that with Shirley Temple. He says he invented that routine spontaneously when what happened?
A: He was going downstairs drunk, he tripped, and managed to keep his feet all the way to the bottom? B: He watching an early version of the slinky descend some stairs in his home and went "aha." Or C: He was at the bottom of the stairs, the King of England was at the top of the stairs, and it just happened?
TAPPER: I'm going to go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A: he was drunk, fell down the stairs, caught himself, "hey, I just did a dance." No, it was actually C. He says, the story he told, that he was getting an award from the King of England. The King of England was at the top of the stairs. He was supposed to go up there to meet him and he just danced his way up, spontaneously.
TAPPER: You know, I shouldn't have gone with the admitting drunk thing, because it was like during Prohibition probably.
SAGAL: Yeah, probably.
DICKINSON: But also isn't that stair dance, he goes up two, he comes down one, he goes up three, he comes down.
SAGAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DICKINSON: I would not do that to the King.
DICKINSON: I don't know.
SAGAL: You don't want to keep the king waiting.
DICKINSON: No. It's like tricky.
FELBER: He could use that knighting sword for a very different purpose if you keep him up too long.
SAGAL: Yeah, exactly.
SAGAL: Well, he would tell stories about himself that may or may not have been true.
SAGAL: For example, he once told the story that his original name was Luther, not Bill, but he wanted the name Bill, so he beat up his brother Bill and took it.
SAGAL: That's a story he told about him. You never now with Bojangles, is what I'm saying.
BABYLON: You never know.
SAGAL: This is an exciting thing, because now if you get this one right, you win. Here we go. He was an inspiration to many dancers, one of whom, Fred Astaire, played tribute to Bojangles in Fred Astaire's movie "Swing Time" by doing what?
A: Falling down a flight of stairs onto his face, getting up and saying to the camera, "You get what you pay for." B: Saying, "Why, I'm nothing compared to Bill Bojangles Robinson." Or C: Doing a big dance number in blackface.
TAPPER: Oh god.
TAPPER: It's probably C, which is horrific.
TAPPER: OK, I'm going to go with C and I should also just say I do not support that.
DICKINSON: Oh sure.
SAGAL: You're merely choosing it. Sadly, it was true. That's what Fred Astaire did.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It's rather one of the more uncomfortable moments for fans of Fred Astaire in that he does this big number, not only in blackface but in this big cartoony suit that was supposed to represent Bojangles' style. He meant it well, what can we say?
BABYLON: Those were different times back then.
SAGAL: It was a different time.
BABYLON: A very different time.
SAGAL: A very different time. Carl, how did Jake Tapper do on our quiz?
KASELL: Jake, you had two correct answers, so you win for Andrew Rossow.
TAPPER: All right.
SAGAL: Well done. So, Jake, I got to ask you, you spent all this time and effort and energy writing this extraordinarily harrowing book about the war in Afghanistan. Are you going to do something easy next?
TAPPER: My daughter wants me to do a children's book.
TAPPER: Because she doesn't understand why I'm spending all this time with soldiers instead of with kids.
TAPPER: She's five.
TAPPER: And by the way, I would have totally aced that My Little Pony quiz you gave to Bill Clinton.
SAGAL: You know, it's funny, you and he have so much in common.
TAPPER: Actually Peter, not really.
SAGAL: Jake Tapper is the author of the extraordinary new book, "The Outpost." It's going to be on the New York Times bestseller list, deservedly so. Go get it; go read it. You will thank me. Jake Tapper, thank you so much for being with us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
TAPPER: Thank you, Peter.
SAGAL: A pleasure to talk to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.