This Week, ABC network’s political TV programme, missed the boat when they chose a new anchor – an anchor who isn’t Jake Tapper

ABC News’ front man George Stephanopoulos eludes me.

He’s moved from This Week with George Stephanopoulos to host Good Morning America, but that’s not what I mean. George Stephanopoulos eludes me in a different sense: no disrespect to himself (or his fans!), but I cannot join in heaping plaudits on him, because I just don’t ‘get’ his show.

This Week screens in New Zealand on TVNZ7, Monday nights, leading into the news at eight. I watch it for my sins, and self-improvement; fare is sparse in this programming desert. I hope for osmosis, and a light bulb moment. But it doesn’t come and, meantime, I wonder if the ‘roundtable’ segment of This Week could be the most boring show on television, certainly the most abstruse.

George Stephanopoulos, eponymous host and round table facilitator, is telegenic, soft-spoken, benign. But something about the roundtable sucks the air out of the room. This is political minutiae: partisan talking heads drone on and on about health care, government bail outs, financial regulation, drowning me in a flotsam of inside knowledge. I need US politics 101, or some sort of hook at least, but this is not entry level stuff. It is onanism, for Washington DC insiders.

It irks me; over a period of months and years, it makes me very pissed off, and I blame this, unfairly, on George.

There are, in fact, two Georges. George II is George Will, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, founding contributor to This Week, conservative foil to George I. Every week, George II sits at the host’s right hand, and spends a lot of time talking gravely down into his chin. I add him to my mental hit list.

Then, George I resigns! He delivers such a sweetly-articulated prepared statement, I at once feel mean and perversely sorry. And, as more weeks pass, and George I is replaced by a rotating chair, I realise things could have been, and might become, so much worse on This Week.

Barbara Walters interviews Scott Brown (they have a ‘shared history’, having featured in the same Cosmopolitan in 1982, though Walters’ clothes stayed on), and someone at TVNZ7 unerringly splices the most emetic bits into a promo, where it keeps repeating, like a dodgy curry. And yet, it proves my point, because nothing else on This Week to date has been half as titillating.

I do not much notice Jake Tapper at first, until he’s been on the show a few weeks. Then he wryly extracts himself one night from a small contretemps with George II, and I prick up my ears: such a thing would have been unheard of with the departed, deferential George. And there’s more subversive fringe entertainment in following weeks. Tapper plays a snippet from The Colbert Report, of no value whatsoever, other than it features himself; afterwards, the camera cuts to George II, whose frank disbelief is not quite quickly enough concealed.

Meanwhile, at the roundtable, there’s a gasp of life: the cross-talk seems incrementally less rehearsed, fractionally less polite. Tapper interviews the two Clintons in consecutive weeks, asks them some of the same questions, gets different answers, and light glimmers in the distance. He introduces fact checking (former Agenda viewers might recall a pale NZ shadow of this, a student political studies project, pre-2008 election). I figure he’s the new host, and decide I would like to find out: who is this man?

Jake Tapper is ABC News’ senior White House correspondent.

Jake Tapper inspires online hate mail, for miscellaneous reasons: he asks the Obama White House hard questions; he was rude to Robert Gibbs and might have dissed the President; he sticks up for rival network Fox News; he is an alleged ‘misogynist’, and worse — a friend of Tucker Carlson’s.

Now, it is true that, in the exchange with Robert Gibbs, Tapper’s fuse burned a tad short. Which might in part be explained by the other Obama link, above: cue indulgent Presidential diversionary tactics.

Tapper dated Monica Lewinsky. He did this because he “figured that behind her initial aggressiveness lurked an easy … bit of no-frills hookup”. Quite so. She wrote her invitation to him pretty plain. What she did not ask for, as Tapper concedes, is to then be laid out bare by him, there on the front page of the Washington City Paper, giving himself a leg-up into career journalism.

“I’ve had my share of dates with Really Important DC Career Women, and I’ve found it’s easy to get the skinny on anything that ever happened to a woman from meiosis ‘til the leak she took before dessert,” he writes. Writing about new technology — caller ID, pagers, email — changing the rules of romance, he offers a prayer for something that might explain some of the women he has dated. Covering the Miss America pageant, he observes that Miss Alabama “moves her body like a girl who hasn’t yet had sex”.

Ick. I emerge from all this feeling somewhat in need of a shower. But good stories all, no doubt about it, if more information than I wanted. And misogyny? Not so much. More like machismo. “I don’t think ambition precisely describes what’s going on with him… ” comments an acquaintance, and people can’t pigeon hole him politically, either. Jake Tapper is a square peg.

The man sure has an ego, Mount Rushmore size. He’s also elusive, brainy, charismatic, complicated, above all interesting. I could compile as long a list of unflattering adjectives, some of which would have been supplied by Tapper himself. But The Colbert Report turns out to have been a nugget of comic gold, not gratuitous puffery. And these two profile pieces make me smile: I can’t help liking Jake Tapper, because he might be a kindred spirit, just a little bit.

Late in my researches, I find I’m not alone in championing Tapper’s cause. And, therefore, I could probably also have found out earlier that I have company in my This Week moan — but I wasn’t keen enough to bother before, and again, that proves my point. Some times, like right now, Jake Tapper turns into the story, instead of just telling it, because he is a live wire. It’s that combustible element that would light a fire under people, get them talking, arguing, keep them watching Every Week.

But Tapper is not the new host; he is only chair-warming until August. Anchor Christiane Amanpour’s brief will be to lift This Week above partisan insider politics, broaden the horizon of the show. I should be happy: the show’s producers are fixing my problem. But I wanted a light bulb moment, this week Jake Tapper was my Edison, and I am missing him already.

 

Comments (14)

by Tim Watkin on April 26, 2010
Tim Watkin

Well, you're on your own here, sister. We love George I in our house... He's just too, too perfect, right down to the hair. Couldn't believe he moved to Good Morning America... But then the ratings difference must be immense.

I'm quite partial to George II as well; he's just a mine of facts and history. And I love that about their roundtable... so much insider knowledge that makes sense of so much of the other stuff. So much insight into the partisan thinking, the way the Washington game is played...

And I can't help thinking... that defence of Tapper sounds like the same defence you'd make of Paul Henry.

by Claire Browning on April 26, 2010
Claire Browning

Well, you're on your own here, sister ...

Oh, I thought I might be ...

We're not on an even playing field though: you guys have lived there a bit, Eleanor has family.

But you're right, the round table does give an insight, sooner or later, total immersion-style. I underestimated how much, until I started hunting around, and what do you know -- I did have some hooks to hang things on, after all.

that defence of Tapper sounds like the same defence you'd make of Paul Henry ...

It is, indeed, the same. I was thinking that too. For the record, I don't defend Paul Henry; Paul Henry is a small boy in long trousers -- therefore, not crush material, frankly.

by Graeme Edgeler on April 27, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

the ratings difference must be immense.

Well, given that Stephanopolous also gave up his position as Chief Washington Correspondent - which meant he also appeared nightly on World News (as Guyon Espiner and Duncan Garner do in their respective shows), I'm not sure.

But GMA is definitely a step up - in recent history it's been the stepping stone to the big chair. Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer both became anchor of World News after hosting GMA.

Jake Tapper is ABC News’ senior White House correspondent.

He is, and how cool is it that they also have a Chief Washington correspondent, Chief foreign correspondent, senior Congressional correspondent, senior Pentagon correspondent, senior National Security correspondent, senior State Department correspondent, and others ... all for the nightly half-hour news?

I'm quite partial to George II as well; he's just a mine of facts and history.

That's why I turn up. Last week's discussion of the retirement of Justice Stevens, led to someone mentioning the prospect of looking outside the appellate bench for his replacement. George (Wi)ll rattled off the last four of five judges that happened for (using them as an example of why it was unlikely), and knew the Senate confirmation vote totals for the last [largish number] of appointments.

by Claire Browning on April 27, 2010
Claire Browning

George (Wi)ll rattled off the last four of five judges ...

He did. Even I was impressed. And he was looking good-ish last night, too, through my new happy rose-tinted glasses -- if a bit of a lonely voice of 'reason', in the Arizona wilderness.

by Tim Watkin on April 28, 2010
Tim Watkin

Graeme, I imagine you're right in terms of it being a stepping stone for George. However he's already the fill-in anchor for Charlie, the established no.2. Maybe the ABC wanted him exposed to a wider audience in a more 'human' role on GMA, preparing for when Charlie moves on...

We love Charlie in our house as well... that casual authority! But Diane Sawyer leaves me cold.

by Graeme Edgeler on April 28, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

However he's already the fill-in anchor for Charlie, the established no.2.

Are we at some cross-purpose here? Charlie Gibson was the number 1. There was Peter Jennings for ages, he was replaced by co-hosts Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodfuff for a short period (less than half a year), and then Charlie Gibson took over permanently (whereupon it was renamed World News with Charles Gibson). He retired late last year and it's now World News with Diane Sawyer. George is the temp, with David Muir doing Saturday's and Dan Harris, Sunday's.

I was quite a fan of Sawyer when she was temping for Gibson in the run-up to the handover, but less so since (side comments kinda bug me). But half-hour news without sport (unless its the Superbowl or similar) or weather (unless it's a blizzard or hurricane), and with only one human interest story right at the end is still pretty good.

by Claire Browning on April 28, 2010
Claire Browning

... (side comments kinda bug me). But half-hour news without sport (unless its the Superbowl or similar) or weather (unless it's a blizzard or hurricane), and with only one human interest story right at the end is still pretty good.

Hah! The side comments drive me nuts. I know the next one is coming; I grit my teeth and hold on, but it's always a bumpy ride. I don't know if it's a Diane Sawyer thing, or a World News thing, or an American culture thing; and I don't even quite know what it is about them that's so annoying. Something about the infusion of deep meaning and gratitude into what is typically some pretty banal comment, I think.

But Graeme: you must mean half hour world news, right? Cause on the TVNZ7 news at eight you get half hour at least, plus interview, largely commercial free -- the sport doesn't start til 8.45. 

And if anyone at TVNZ is reading, you'd think on 7 someone could put their thinking caps on and work the world news into a better time, instead of shunting it off behind what are quite often repeats (how many times does the same series of the Media Project have to be recycled?). Some of us work and sleep; and not all of us have Tivo or whatever.

by Graeme Edgeler on April 29, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Cause on the TVNZ7 news at eight you get half hour at least, plus interview, largely commercial free -- the sport doesn't start til 8.45.

Yeah, but they still repeat the human interest stories. Plus it's an hour. I like half-hour news. And while I realise the reason we have hour-long news (unlike much of the world) is that we no longer have local news shows, so need somewhere to put the local news/human interest stories, I probably wouldn't watch the local news, so they're making things worse all 'round.

The side comments drive me nuts. ... I don't know if it's a Diane Sawyer thing, or a World News thing, or an American culture thing; ...

It's a Diane Sawyer thing. Which isn't to say that it's not an other person thing as well, but as a long-time World News viewer (back when TV3 used to play it around midnight - i.e. before the TVNZ/Disney deal) I can confirm Peter Jennings didn't do it. And Brian Williams doesn't do it either.

And ... you'd think on 7 someone could put their thinking caps on and work the world news into a better time, instead of shunting it off behind what are quite often repeats (how many times does the same series of the Media Project have to be recycled?)

Yeah. I just have my FreeVo tape the 5:10 showing (which is already quite delayed). The 11:35 showing you'd watch is a repeat, but I'd note that it has never played after The Media Project TVNZ7s rigid set-up wouldn't let it (World's best airs from 7:10-8 :-)

That said, while they're repeating The Media Project for the second time, the Thursday equivelant of its time-slot, NOW had had some utterly fantastic pieces recently (the one on tea-party-type voter anger from maybe 3 weeks ago particularly). Some are a little old, but they're still relevant, and first run here.

by Claire Browning on April 29, 2010
Claire Browning

I like half-hour news. And while I realise the reason we have hour-long news (unlike much of the world) is that we no longer have local news shows ...

The thing with half-hour news is, in NZ, you'd never convince anyone to leave out (a) the sport (+ collegial inter-presenter chats), (b) the weather (x 3 instalments per bulletin!), let alone (c) the human interest or (d) the commercials. So I doubt that, in NZ, you would find that you liked half-hour news in practice, because there wouldn't be a lot of room left in the 30 minutes for, you know, real national + global news.

To my mind, that's more accurately the reason for hour-long bulletins, at 6 pm particularly, because there's so much fluff in there, filling gaps between the real business of advertising.

It's a Diane Sawyer thing.

I'd swear I've seen David Muir doing it ... though I guess, in his defence, that will just be a courtesy to the person who 'owns' the show.

I'd note that it has never played after The Media Project TVNZ7s rigid set-up wouldn't let it (World's best airs from 7:10-8 ...

That wee aside wasn't meant to be quite so literal -- which is my fault, because it wasn't grammatical, either!

I know it doesn't air directly after The Media Project, it was just one example, among many, of TVNZ7 seeming to prefer the easy cheap option of running repeats (and the one currently bugging me, because I thought they were up to the third go-round on TMP, actually ...), when I'm sure there's a wealth of quality stuff out there NZers have not seen. As you say, that shows on World's Best -- great calibre documentaries, but quite often made a year or few ago -- and not such great calibre that I want to see them a gazillion times.

I wasn't overlooking the problem of their programming, either ... I was having a flick through last night, trying to figure out where you could put the World News, without jiggering other good stuff. 6-7 is NZ Voice (Te Karere, Attitude, etc). 9-10 is NZ Views, sometimes repeats (eg, Q&A -- which first airs at inhospitable time), sometimes not (eg, Backbenches Weds and Media7/Ad Show Thurs).

In the end, what I was wondering was: does the 8pm news have to be quite such a close reproduction of 6pm? Because if you stripped out, for example, the teaser 'sport headlines', any items lifted direct from ABC World News (on the grounds they're coming later), and then skipped the 10 min 9 pm news bulletin (because we've just had the hour long version), you'd have something approaching your 25 World News minutes, I reckon -- so it could run straight on after the news at eight. 

How quickly we forget, though. For completeness, I am quite pathetically grateful for TVNZ7, and Freeview more generally -- just sayin', always room to improve.

by Claire Browning on April 29, 2010
Claire Browning

ps -- and actually, on reflection, there wasn't anything wrong with the grammar ...

by Graeme Edgeler on April 29, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

You're right - this is the third go-around for The Media Project (they're repeating it for the second time, having repeated it already and played it once).

You might (or might not) have grammar issues, but I appear to have clarity issues, which is probably worse =)

by Claire Browning on April 29, 2010
Claire Browning

So what's a FreeVo? Is that, like ... free?

by Graeme Edgeler on April 29, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

It's what I started calling my Freeview hard drive recorder after I bought it, hoping it would take off (for once, I was an early adopter). A portmanteau of Freeview and TiVo, I think it's distinctly better than "MyFreeviewHD", which they seem to have gone with. Then someone brought the TiVo to New Zealand, but no-one seems to buying it.

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