Ethics Hero: ABC News White House Correspondent Jake Tapper

Neat trick by Jay Carney: Speaking for the President, AND doing an uncanny impression of a weasel!

It shows the degree to which we now take bias and favoritism by the news media for granted that a reporter doing what once was regarded as his duty now appears heroic.  Sadly, that is where we are.

That is also why Jake Tapper warrants an Ethics Hero designation for pressing White House press secretary Jay Carney on the obvious disconnect between President Obama’s lecture on civility in January in the wake of the Giffords shooting, and his happy acceptance of the call by  Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. to “take these sons of bitches out” at a rally over the weekend. The exchange:

TAPPER: And, lastly, Jay, in January, President Obama said, after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay all the ills of the world at people who think differently than we do, it’s important to pause for a moment to make sure that we are talking to each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” Did he mean that?

JAY CARNEY: Of course he did.

TAPPER: How does– How do the comments by the teamster’s president fit in with that?

CARNEY: Well, first of all, those weren’t comments by the President. The President wasn’t there. Secondly, and I think has been reported…

TAPPER: Comments by a union leader at an event that President Obama spoke at.

CARNEY: I understand that there is a ritual in Washington that somebody said something and then you link the associations and then everyone who has an association with him or her somehow has to avow or disavow. The President wasn’t there. I mean, he wasn’t on stage. He didn’t speak for another twenty minutes. He didn’t hear it. I really don’t have any comment beyond that.

TAPPER: Okay, well, some of us covered the campaign and recall a time when someone made some harsh comments about then-Senator Obama while- during an introduction of a McCain rally and the Obama campaign was offended and expected an apology and Senator McCain came out and did so.

CARNEY: Well- Mr. Hoffa speaks for himself. He speaks for the labor movement, AFL-CIO. The President speaks for himself. I speak for the President. What the President was glad to do yesterday was have the opportunity to present his views on working Americans and the importance of taking measures to help working Americans to create jobs to grow the economy.

TAPPER: So, the President you’re setting right now for the 2012 election is the candidates- the Republican candidates are the ones that we need to pay attention to and those who introduce them at rallies, their surrogates, you don’t have to pay attention to anything they say.

CARNEY: Jake, I think I’ve said what I can say.

TAPPER: Is that the standard now?

CARNEY: You can report it as you like.

TAPPER: I’d rather not have to do this Washington Kabuki every time something happens, but if that’s the standard, if that’s the standard …

CARNEY: The standard is, we should focus on the actions we can take to grow the economy and create jobs, instead of focusing on Kabuki theater.

Excellent work, Mr. Tapper. Note how Carney retreated to the same talking point that Debbie Wasserman Schultz used when she was refusing to repudiate Hoff’s language on Fox earlier in the day. Not also that;  his answer makes no sense, especially in light of the Democratic attempts earlier in the year to claim that extreme conservative rhetoric was creating the risk of violence. This was not, as Carney suggested, an attempt at guilt by association. This is a question of endorsement or rejection, for a President who ran on a platform of changing the tone of political discourse in America. Now that the poll numbers are heading southward, is Obama still a man of his word? Or was it just convenient to use civility as a way to muzzle legitimate criticism, and now that his own campaign wants to go negative, anything, even vulgar name-calling, is acceptable?

If reporters like Tapper don’t insist on answers to questions like this, the American public cannot learn which officials have integrity, which officials stand by their words, and which officials they can trust. Jay Carney “speaks for the President,” and he refused to repudiate uncivil rhetoric when it came from an ally.

I think Jake Tapper got his answer, and do did we.

Thanks, Jake. I just wish the answer had been different.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: ABC News White House Correspondent Jake Tapper

  1. Side issue:

    As someone who teaches a course in Asian theatre on a regular if infrequent basis, allow me to express my ongoing displeasure at the continued use of the term “Kabuki” to signify evasiveness. Kabuki is dynamic and beautiful; it requires skill and discipline; it is by turns heroic and hilarious, and when it is the latter, it is intentionally so. Would that there were any politicians who could claim as much.

      • My guess–and it’s only that–is that someone saw a Kabuki performance, didn’t understand it, thought the often frenetic movements looked random (they’re anything but), and began to describe that which is intentionally ubfuscatory with that which a lazy spectator didn’t bother to try to comprehend. And, of course, there’s a more American equivalent: tap-dancing around the truth. Besides, it’s a fun word: I find myself continually drawn to “kerfuffle” and “brouhaha,” for example…

        • Also, Kabuki is often rather melodramatic, and it was originally designed to appeal to the merchant class (the lowest class in social, though not economic, terms in Tokugawa Japan), whereas the more sedate Noh was the domain of the Samurai. There may therefore be a suggestion of vulgarity or exaggeration in whatever is being described.

  2. Since the word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning “to lean” or “to be out of the ordinary”, kabuki can be interpreted as “avant-garde” or “bizarre” theatre.[1] The expression kabukimono (歌舞伎者) referred originally to those who were bizarrely dressed and swaggered on a street.– Wikipedia

  3. Jack,
    I’m not sure the answer is to “tone down” the rhetoric as, to my mind, words have never been the problem. If an elected official wants to “target” political opponents he doesn’t like or a union leader wants to “take out” members of Congress (an ironic statement, by the way, considering what happened to his father), so be it. After all, I’m all in favor of civil dialogue, but I’m not convinced the use of death metaphors necessarily counts.

    Carney was playing a double-standard, no doubt, but the real problem was Obama and other Democrats making an issue of the rhetoric in the first place, not that it was said. I don’t hold Hoffa’s comments against him any more than I do Dan Savage saying he wished the Republicans were “all fucking dead” unless either of them happens to be holding a monkey’s paw at the time. Otherwise, they’re just angry words which, for good or bad, have been apart of politics from the beginning.

    This is, after all, a far cry from Preston Brooks’ openly beating a fellow congressman on the House floor. Now THAT was uncivil!


    • That was uncivil, though using it is pretty clearly in the “it’s not the worst thing” rationalization category.

      I have less trouble with Hoffa or even Waters than Carson–I think that’s waaay over the line, appealing to race divisions, and worthy of House discipline.
      But sometimes “gotchas” are fair, and this is one of those times. The media and the left were insufferable after Tucson—I wrote, as did many, that it was a cynical effort to censor political speech from critics on the right, and it was, and this proves it was. Tapper was right to call Carney on it, and such conduct impacts trustworthiness. Clearly, the Democrats are in panic mode, and from here on in will literally do or say anything, violate any principles and go back on any previous pledge of respect and decency, to hold on to power. And that’s depressing.

  4. I recall the 2008 election cycle. At an appearance in Cincinnati, local radio host Bill Cunningham was introducing McCain and tossing some red-meat to the crowd. For weeks Cunningham had been calling candidate Obama by his full name “Barack Hussein Obama”, and indeed referred to him by his full name BHO in the lead-up to McCain’s appearance.

    I hear Cunningham sometimes. He is entertaining. He is bombastic. Do I think the BHO designation was a xenophobia play? Perhaps. My reaction was irrelevant.

    I admired McCain for coming out and immediately harshing on Cunningham. HE made a gut-check, and acted quickly and decisively. I have my issue with McCain’s policies [he was my last-choice GOP candidate; Obama was my last-choice Dem], but I have rarely doubted his ethical character.

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