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Jake Tapper - Democracy in Crisis: Views from the Press

November 3, 2023 1:22:17
Kaltura Video

Watch this Fall 2023 Democracy in Crisis event, a conversation with Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, and Lynette Clemetson, Director of Wallace House Center for Journalists. Their wide-ranging discussion covers the state of democracy and the role and responsibility of the press in a democratic society, as well as how Tapper’s experience of being an anchor and correspondent informs his craft of writing fiction.


0:00:00.8 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy here at the University of Michigan. And I am delighted to welcome all of you this afternoon to the latest event in our series, Democracy and Crisis, Views from the Press, featuring CNN anchor and Chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper.


0:00:32.2 CW: Today's event is presented in partnership with the Wallace House Center for Journalists and our media partners at Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Wallace House has been such a great leader and partner in this series. Many of this year's Knight-Wallace Fellows are here from around the country and around the world. They bring us such interesting perspectives on what is happening in the world. The struggle to combat misinformation is constant, and in the world of AI is only going to make it more complicated. And it's affecting our political discourse in very detrimental ways. So it's more important than ever that we, as academics, as policymakers, as journalists, and as citizens, find ways to communicate with each other accurately and dispassionately. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the future of our democracy demands that of us. We are so pleased to welcome Jake Tapper.

0:01:34.5 CW: Just back from covering the events in the Middle East. He is the anchor of CNN's award-winning program The Lead with Jake Tapper and host of the Sunday morning show State of the Union. In addition to his reporting and anchor role, Tapper has also authored several books, including the recently published All the Demons Are Here, the third book of his historical fiction series. Thank you so much for being with us as we look forward to this exciting conversation. And with that, I will turn it over to my friend and colleague, Lynette Clemetson, director of Wallace House Center for Journalists, home of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship Program and the Livingston Awards. She was a Knight-Wallace Fellow herself, and her career included working as a reporter in Washington for the New York Times and Newsweek and reporting for Newsweek from Hong Kong. She came to the University of Michigan from National Public Radio, where she was senior director of strategy and content initiatives. We are so lucky to have Lynette here. So, Lynette, I will turn it over to you as we welcome Jake Tapper.


0:03:04.8 Lynette Clemetson: Ooh.

0:03:05.8 Jake Tapper: Is that me or you? 

0:03:07.4 LC: I don't know. We'll figure it out.

0:03:11.7 JT: Someone told me my prom date was here.

0:03:13.4 LC: Where? Where? 

0:03:13.7 JT: Where's Ray? Ray! You have kids old enough to be here? How did that possibly happen? 

0:03:24.9 LC: We clearly have to make time for a photo afterwards. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. It's so great to see a full house. And, Jake, it is so wonderful to have you here. And I just wanna acknowledge just the fact that you're here. You know what city you're in? 

0:03:44.5 JT: Wait, where am I? 

0:03:46.2 LC: You're making full sentences.

0:03:49.2 JT: I got back from Israel Wednesday night.

0:03:53.4 LC: Yeah.

0:03:54.3 JT: And I do honestly have to acknowledge that not only am I jet lagged, I think anybody who is coming back from the Middle East, I'm saying this quite seriously, has PTSD to a degree. Like all of us.

0:04:12.1 LC: I think it's. You would have to.

0:04:14.8 JT: All of us do. And I really am very shaken up. It was absolutely brutal. What the poor people, the innocent people in Gaza are going through right now and what the people in Israel went through after that devastating attack. It's just absolutely horrific. And I've covered wars before. It's awful. But it's, there was just something about this that was just horrible.

0:04:36.1 LC: Well, I'd love to start with the news and talk a bit about that. And I wanna say we're gonna make time for questions in this conversation. When you came in, you received a card and it has a QR code on it. We're gonna talk for much of the first hour and then we're gonna go to questions. We have two of our Knight-Wallace fellows, Elizabeth Aguilera and Mila Koumpilova here. They're gonna be following your questions and asking them when we open things up. And so we look forward to hearing from you. And so many of you submitted questions in advance and we just wanna thank you. It's been good to read and see how engaged you are in the news and with really good questions. So we look forward to it. But let's talk about the news.

0:05:28.3 JT: Yeah.

0:05:30.9 LC: The past month has been really excruciating.

0:05:34.0 JT: Brutal. Yeah.

0:05:35.5 LC: And you've been reporting live from Israel for the past how many days? 10 days or so.

0:05:42.9 JT: 10 days yeah.

0:05:46.0 CW: And, of course, a journalist as experienced as you, you're covering, you've covered many conflicts in many different places. This one has felt different in many ways. As you mentioned, more the level of trauma, the immediacy of it, quite great? Can you just talk about what it's like to move on a moment's notice to covering a live breaking event that is a war unfolding before our eyes? 

0:06:16.5 JT: It's difficult to compare traumatic events and I don't wanna belittle any of the ones that I have covered because I've been to so many. And they're all awful in their individual ways, whether it's the levees breaking in Katrina and what the poor people of New Orleans suffered and the horrible memories I have of that. Or the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and Gaza. Or the couple weeks I spent in Baghdad during the Iraq war and that was right when it looked like Iraq was about to break out into a civil war between Shia and Sunni. I think that was 2005. I've been to Afghanistan a couple times. I wrote a book about Afghanistan. And Ukraine last April, I got to interview President Zelenskyy in his palace in April 2022.

0:07:15.3 JT: And they're all... I mean it was in Ferguson after the Michael Brown shooting, which was actually the one time I came closest to bullets. So they're all awful, but there was something about the torturing of babies and the torturing of children that, and you didn't see all of it because a lot of it was not brought to you and you're in the newspaper or on TV. And I'm not in any way belittling the horrific suffering going on in Gaza right now by the IDF airstrikes. And I'm not saying that that is lesser. It is not and I'm not. Please don't think that I am saying that that is not horrific. I'm not comparing, but at all. But just encountering the people who have gone through that or the people who loved the people who have gone through that the abject face to face. Torturing of children of moms of seniors is just, it's just something that I can't speak on behalf of Erin Burnett or Anderson Cooper or anybody else that's covered this but there's just something about it that just shakes you to your core.

0:08:57.5 JT: Again, all war is horrible. All death is horrible. I'm not saying one is worse than the other. But the experience of talking seeing bearing witness to that was particularly horrific. Combined with all of the death on both sides of the border with Gaza, combined with the metaphorical minefield of covering the conflict.

0:09:30.9 LC: Yeah.

0:09:31.0 JT: Combined with the fact that so few people... No I shouldn't say that, combined with that there were loudly people who did not care about the slaughter of innocent people on October 7th and were loud about it.

0:09:57.4 LC: I mean, I can see you're still wrestling.

0:10:01.1 JT: Yeah, I mean I wish I was a lot cooler than than this. But it's just upsetting.

0:10:07.2 LC: And, you know, for something for an issue like this that where feelings run so hot in both directions, inevitably sort of the normal chorus of media critique amps up with a story like this. What do you think the role of the media broadly, but also of a 24 hour news channel is, in a war? 

0:10:39.9 JT: Well, I mean, I think, first of all, the challenges of a 24 hour channel are considerable because something happens. And We don't have... We have to report on it. Then, we don't have the luxury of what we don't have to go on air for 10 hours.

0:11:00.3 LC: Right.

0:11:00.8 JT: So we have to. We know there's an explosion we don't know exactly what happened. And that patience that is necessary is challenged. And sometimes mistakes can be made in that moment of wanting to tell people what's going on. And one side or the other is claiming that they know more than they do so that's one.

0:11:31.7 LC: Yeah.

0:11:35.0 JT: And there is in all wars an information war that's going on, where one side or the other or both are saying more than they know, or saying things that are not true. And that's challenging.

0:11:52.8 LC: And in the normal coverage of politics, right? You deal with people on your air saying things that you know to be untrue all the time.

0:12:01.1 JT: Right. But Congresswoman Nancy Mace telling me that Democrats trust Jim Jordan is different than a claim.


0:12:12.9 JT: Is different than a claim about a life or death situation.

0:12:17.1 LC: Right. And so in war, I mean, we've seen over the past couple of weeks, sometimes journalists get it wrong.

0:12:27.3 JT: Yeah, it can be... And it's... It can be tough.

0:12:27.5 LC: And In really consequential ways. And the decision to acknowledge when a mistake is made. When I'm talking to students about sort of key markers of journalism, the one thing that I say is, well, you have to always be, you have to start with trying to follow facts and the truth. And if you make a mistake, you have to acknowledge the mistake and correct it.

0:12:48.7 JT: And I think one of the things that has to be acknowledged also is when you report on something that just happened, you have to acknowledge we don't know what just happened. This side is making this claim. We don't know if it's true. This is what they are saying. And sometimes that can be undermined by other things going on, whether it's what the website is saying or what the headline is saying, stuff that is out of your control. You might not even know what's going on. You are saying this is what they're claiming. I don't know that this is true, but this is what they're claiming. So that's that's a challenge. That's always a challenge. You want to make sure that you're challenging people that you speak with, that you're interviewing a war like this is... This is not Democrats versus Republicans. This is a Western democracy that has a military like our military that is accountable and also says things that aren't necessarily always true. Like our military versus a group that is by definition, according to our own State Department, a terrorist group. And we saw what they did on October 7th. So we're not dealing with, Hakeem Jeffries says this and speaker, whatever his name is, says this.


0:14:15.3 LC: We're gonna get to that.

0:14:17.9 JT: I'm sorry, man. I've been in Israel for 10 days. Mike Johnson, right? 

0:14:23.3 LC: Yes.

0:14:24.2 JT: Mike Johnson. I think it's Mike Johnson.

0:14:27.3 LC: It is Mike Johnson. Yeah.

0:14:29.6 JT: It's two names that you could pick from a hat. Right? Fred Smith. Mike Johnson.

0:14:39.3 LC: Yes, it is Mike Johnson. In fact.

0:14:41.9 JT: Sam Thompson.

0:14:43.8 LC: Yes. But you raise a good point. Well, let's get back to Mike Johnson. What...

0:14:49.1 JT: Anyway, my point is it's not Hakeem Jeffries versus Mike Johnson. It's...

0:14:52.8 LC: So given...

0:14:54.1 JT: The idea versus Hamas. It's not.

0:14:56.6 LC: Yeah. So given all of that...

0:14:58.2 JT: And now with the counterpoint, Hamas. No, you can't.

0:15:02.2 LC: You can't counter it. Yes.

0:15:03.7 JT: No, it's not.

0:15:03.8 LC: And so given all of that, given that inherent difficulty, what does your inbox look like right now? 

0:15:12.3 JT: [laughter] It's, not... I don't read it. I can't. It is a nonstop barrage of it's not just my inbox. It's social media. It's everything. It's a nonstop barrage of I'm on the wrong side of everything according to everyone. And I mean, it doesn't matter.

0:15:42.6 LC: Right. But if you're on the wrong side of everything, it probably means you're...

0:15:47.4 JT: You know, not necessarily. I mean, I used to think that like if you're pissing everybody off, then you're doing the right job. And not necessarily.

0:15:54.2 LC: Yeah.

0:15:55.2 JT: But again, with the information wars, I mean, there's also just a lot of... There are a lot of people that just criticize media and they're not even watching. You know what I mean? They're don't even know what's on. They're not even engaged. They're not even paying for cable. A lot of them have cut the cord.

0:16:19.2 LC: Right.

0:16:19.8 JT: So I just have to do the best job I can, which is honestly just to be the most human person I can, which is I don't know that what the idea is doing is the right thing. And I just have to cover it that way. But I also know that I know what Hamas is. And I'm not gonna pretend that... I'm not gonna pretend that it's Thomas Jefferson.

0:16:46.2 LC: Right. I was... I've been watching over the past...

0:16:49.2 JT: That's a bad example, Thomas Jefferson. Let me think of a better one. You know what I mean? 

0:16:56.3 LC: You know, there there have been times over the past week on the air where because you're trying to be a real person doing your show and experiencing what's happening on the ground and the interviews that you've been doing that, there were a few times where I felt like I saw some real strain...

0:17:18.1 JT: Yeah.

0:17:18.6 LC: Show. And can you talk about, were there moments that were just particularly just like how am I gonna get through this? 

0:17:33.1 JT: Well, one that I remember had nothing to do with the Israeli-Hamas conflict. It was when we were reporting on what happened in Lewiston, Maine, and we found out that the guy had been like involuntarily committed. And it was just like. Because this has been something since I've been covering gun atrocities in this country, mass shootings, and it's become very clear that they're not gonna, that the Congress is not going to revert to what gun laws were like in the '90s, that there does seem to be the one area where there might be some action would be. If you look at... Okay so this is gun owners. I'm doing a Venn diagram here if you can work with me. So this is gun owners. Okay, and they're not gonna... Like no one's gonna eliminate gun owners in this country.

0:18:34.0 JT: And this is people with mental illness. And obviously, most of them are not a threat to themselves or others, but some of them are. And then this is where they intersect. And this area right here where there are gun owners who are have severe mental illness is an area that maybe Congress would be willing to act like you'd be like, maybe if you have severe mental illness. You shouldn't have a gun, or at least, maybe Congress should be like look into it, because that seems to be a problem area.

0:19:11.6 LC: Right.

0:19:13.4 JT: Right? Like, I mean, and there are red flag laws or yellow flag laws, which they have in Maine. But it's like that scene in Seinfeld where he's trying to get a rental car and he took a reservation and he said, "I had a reservation." And she said, "I know." And he goes, "I don't think you do."


0:19:38.5 JT: You know how to take a reservation. You just don't know how to hold a reservation.


0:19:44.8 LC: Yeah.

0:19:45.2 JT: And it's like they don't know, they have the red flag laws, but they don't know how to do anything about the red flag. Like, okay, this guy was committed and you don't know how to wave the red flag, which is what happened in Maine. And now there are 18 people who were killed. Anyway, that's when I was just like, I felt like the life sapping from my body on air. But yeah, no, there are times covering this conflict where it's just...

0:20:11.6 LC: There was a moment where I was like, "Oh, he just lost it." Where...


0:20:21.2 JT: Which is always what an anchorman wants to hear.

0:20:23.0 LC: Yeah.


0:20:23.1 JT: About his coverage.

0:20:25.0 LC: Where... Because you had this...

0:20:26.2 JT: That's what people said about Moreau, Cronkite.


0:20:27.4 LC: You had this situation where you are there covering the situation on the ground and we've got the folly of American politics back here.

0:20:37.0 JT: Oh. Yeah.

0:20:39.7 LC: And we had no speaker for the first couple of weeks of this tragedy. And then we had Fred Smith, otherwise known as Mike Johnson.


0:20:51.3 JT: I believe his name is Hank Thompson.

0:20:52.4 LC: Yeah, and a resolution was... You started talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene.

0:21:00.0 JT: Oh, yeah. [chuckle] Marjorie Taylor Greene had written a censure resolution because of her deep concerns of Congresswoman Tlaib's anti-Semitism. Because if we know there's an issue that Marjorie Taylor Greene cares deeply about...


0:21:17.8 JT: It is anti-Semitism.


0:21:22.7 JT: She wants more of it.


0:21:25.4 JT: So, yeah. And I said something about the censure resolution that Marjorie Taylor Greene...

0:21:31.6 LC: But I was...

0:21:32.8 JT: She, by the way, who, Marjorie Taylor Greene the other day declared me to be pro-Hamas.


0:21:38.7 LC: But I felt for you in that situation because I just was like, wow. It must be maddening to have to take a break from... Because it is, you know, covering American politics is a large part of your job. To take a break from reporting on...

0:22:00.9 JT: Very serious issues.

0:22:01.0 LC: On very serious issues to just work through...

0:22:04.0 JT: Literally life or death issues.

0:22:06.4 LC: Nonsense.

0:22:07.6 JT: Yeah.

0:22:09.6 LC: That makes us look, like not serious people, to borrow a line from Succession.

0:22:15.6 JT: Well, what do you mean, we, Kimisabe? 


0:22:18.7 LC: Americans.


0:22:18.7 LC: Americans.

0:22:21.8 JT: Yeah. I mean, yeah, we look really dumb from overseas. We do. We look very stupid and petty and dumb. Yeah. We do. I mean, the conflicts are overwhelming and require American leadership in a way that certainly doesn't exist on Capitol Hill. I mean, both in Ukraine and Russia and also Israel. And Gaza, and not to... And don't forget the West Bank where the settlers are running mad and killing Palestinians. That's a whole other thing. But, yeah. No, it's a disgrace. So, everybody feel good? 


0:23:13.4 LC: So, we've got a lot of... Can I just see hands? Who... We've got a lot of students here.

0:23:16.3 JT: Wow, this place is packed.

0:23:21.2 LC: Yeah. A lot of students here. Probably half the room.

0:23:22.0 JT: We should hear from them.

0:23:25.7 LC: And how many students are interested in journalism? 

0:23:29.5 JT: That's two.


0:23:30.6 LC: Raised well, I see. People look at you and...

0:23:43.6 JT: I agree that I'm probably not doing the best job selling it right now.


0:23:47.0 LC: We're gonna turn the corner. I promise you. We're gonna turn the corner.

0:23:52.4 JT: I'm usually a lot more pro everything. I literally just got off the plane. This was a very tough reporting trip. I mean, this is a horrible experience. It was just really, it was just, the grief was overwhelming. And I'm sure if I'd crossed the... I'm sure if any journalists were allowed into Gaza from Israel, it'd be horrible too. I mean, it's just a horrible experience.

0:24:12.4 LC: Well, but I mean, that's an excellent question for people who are interested in how journalists do their job. How much of the time you're working with partial information, because you can't get to the place that you might really want to be to see what's happening with your own eyes.

0:24:29.7 JT: Yeah.

0:24:31.0 LC: And so it creates this additional layer of this additional burden.

0:24:36.6 JT: Yeah.

0:24:37.3 LC: For what your job is while you're there and what you come away with. Are you going back? 

0:24:46.0 JT: I don't know.

0:24:46.1 LC: Yeah.

0:24:48.3 JT: I don't know. I haven't had time to talk to my boss, I'd like to go back.

0:24:53.6 LC: Yeah.

0:24:54.3 JT: Yeah. But I mean, we do, we reported on what was going on in Gaza in various ways. I would interview people in Gaza. We would, at least we have a couple of reporters that I would have a piece from Gaza every show. [0:25:10.1] ____ who was often in Jordan and Salma Abdelaziz, who was often in London would file pieces. Usually there are reporters working for us or working for services who would get us footage and we would report on them. There were a few Americans trapped in Gaza whose stories we were constantly bringing. Thank God they... I forget if it was today or yesterday 'cause it's all running together in my head, but they got out. They just got out. I don't know how many of you watched my show, but for anybody who does Abud and his sister, Hanin got out and their families, they finally got out. And it was just like such a relief.

0:25:48.2 JT: Because, one, sometimes you feel you tell the story of somebody, and then you know that you can actually do more than just tell their story. You can actually call people at the State Department and call people at the National Security Council, and you know some people, like, that are in special forces and doing stuff. And, like, here's their passport, here's their number, here's their name. Please do what you can to get them out. And I did this for Kabul, too, a couple years ago, because you're a person, also. And, anyway, they got out.

0:26:20.6 LC: Yeah.


0:26:29.0 LC: You were a history major at Dartmouth, right? 

0:26:32.3 JT: I was.

0:26:33.6 LC: What made you wanna go into journalism? 

0:26:38.0 JT: I didn't know what I wanted to do after college. And, I was on a... You know, it's weird, because I was actually the editor of My High School paper. And, then I went to college, and I did a comic strip in the school paper. And, then, that's kind of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a cartoonist. That didn't work out. And, I don't know, I just kind of, like, I was in my 20s, and I didn't know what I wanted to do. Which, by the way, for college kids, I have so much advice for the college kids.

0:27:10.7 LC: Yeah, that's where we're going.

0:27:13.3 JT: So, okay. So, one of the things I wanted to say for the college kids is it's okay if you don't wanna know what you wanna do right after graduation. I did not become a full-time journalist until I was, like, 29. So, like, just because there are friends of yours that are, like, going to law school, or going to business school, or going to medical school, it's okay. You can figure it out in your 20s. You can, like, I mean, you have to get a job. You have to, like, pay bills and stuff. But, like.


0:27:37.8 LC: Says the parent of teenagers.

0:27:38.7 JT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, you don't get to live in your parents' house.


0:27:41.8 JT: But, it's okay to, like, figure it out. Like, give yourself some grace. You don't have to know everything at 22. Anyway, I was on a ski trip. I was, like, working in PR or something. Whatever. One of those stupid jobs.


0:27:58.1 JT: And if you wanna be in PR, great. But, like, I was just, like, an idiot, like, account executive. I don't even know what I was doing. And literally sleeping under my desk. Before George Costanza did it. And, I was on a ski trip. And, a friend of people on the ski trip had just written an article on The New Republic. And, it was, like a light bulb went off in my head. Like, oh, like, people...

0:28:24.5 LC: Do this for a living? 

0:28:25.9 JT: Can just do this.

0:28:26.0 LC: Yeah.

0:28:28.1 JT: You don't actually... You can just, like, hand in an article and write freelance articles. If you have an idea. So, I started writing freelance articles. And, it was fun. You could come up with an idea and then it just became a thing like, oh, how come somebody hasn't written this story? How come somebody hasn't written that story? And, I started just, like, coming up with ideas. And, I was one of those annoying people. And I had a notebook with me at all times. And, like, writing ideas.

0:28:50.3 LC: It's not an annoying characteristic.

0:28:53.2 JT: It was with the goatee.


0:28:57.6 JT: And the American spirit cigarettes. But, just trust me. It was annoying.


0:29:00.0 JT: And, anyway. And, then, eventually, I had enough of them that Washington City Paper was, like, hey, do you wanna work for us full time? And, that's how it happened.

0:29:10.6 LC: The Washington City Paper was the creator of many fantastic careers.

0:29:15.0 JT: David Carr was the legendary editor at the time. He has since passed away. But, he was the guy that hired me. And, that's, but that's how it all happened. It was just, like, coming up with interesting ideas. And, like, stumbling on weird stories. And, thinking, oh, this could be fun. And, just pitching them. And, this is the second lesson, which is, especially for aspiring journalists. And, I told the three lovely people with the student newspaper this already. But, like, for anybody in their 20s about to graduate from college, probably good advice even if you're not going into journalism. Rejection is like a big part of being an adult. And, like, I don't think anybody told me this, ever.

0:29:52.9 JT: And like, I just want you to be prepared for it, like, you're, like, no one tells you this, right? You're in high school, and, you get really good grades. I assume that's how you ended up at Michigan. And, then you're in college and people are providing you with birth control. I mean, every need of yours is taken care of here. Again, I assume. And...


0:30:17.7 JT: I hope. And then you go out in the real world, and people are, like, no, no, no, no, no. And, like, I just remember in my 20s, like, all this rejection, and I hadn't, except for my prom date, nobody had ever...


0:30:35.9 JT: Nobody had ever rejected me before. I'm sorry, Ray. But, it's true. And all of a sudden, my life was just full of rejection. And that is a part of your 20s and your 30s and your 40s and your 50s. And just please be prepared for that. Because, I felt like no one told me that in, ever. Right? And, then you realize it...

0:31:02.7 LC: You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.

0:31:03.4 JT: All the time.

0:31:04.4 LC: All the time. Yeah.

0:31:05.8 JT: It's not just, like, when Sinatra sang all those songs about being rejected, he really was, that was his life experience. Right? 

0:31:13.4 LC: So this is...

0:31:14.7 JT: This is your water. I'm sorry.

0:31:16.5 LC: Yeah. This is... Here. Here it is.

0:31:17.8 JT: Thank you so much.

0:31:18.3 LC: Yes.


0:31:19.8 LC: It's a good segue because...

0:31:24.0 JT: The adults in the audience will back me on this. Right? 

0:31:26.0 LC: Yeah. Yes.


0:31:30.9 JT: I feel like this new, this young generation, like, you're very hard on yourself already. You really are. You're very tough on yourself. And I just want you to be prepared. Like, life is tough. But you're gonna be fine. And just prepare. Just know that it is tough. It is. But you're gonna be fine. And it's nothing personal. It's tough. We all go through it. And like, you're gonna be okay. I promise you, you're gonna be okay. But just please know, every one of us, like, have had bad days and bad weeks and bad months and bad years. Every one of us. And I just want you to know that. Because you're gonna, like, be 23, 24, 25 and be like, Jesus, this sucks.


0:32:18.6 JT: College was so much better. Yes.

0:32:21.3 LC: Yes.


0:32:22.2 LC: Yes. Yes.


0:32:29.3 JT: Yes, it was. Yes, it was. Okay? But just remember this moment. Okay? 

0:32:36.1 LC: And I love that you said there will be bad years.

0:32:36.8 JT: Oh, yeah.

0:32:39.3 LC: Because sometimes there are bad years.

0:32:41.0 JT: Decades.


0:32:43.2 LC: Don't you, like, you're just...

0:32:46.0 JT: Well, then if it is not so bad then make expectations low.


0:32:49.8 LC: Yeah. Yeah. So, you mentioned Frank Sinatra. Great segue. And also.

0:32:55.1 JT: Oh. Completely planned.

0:32:55.8 LC: I just wanna say your job is in broadcast now. But if David Carr hired you at the Washington City Paper, you must have been a fantastic writer.

0:33:07.0 JT: Why are you saying it like it's in the past tense? 


0:33:09.1 LC: Well, because one of the things I was going to ask you about is just like, these are real page turners. I don't have the Hellfire Club, I guess, because it didn't fit in my purse.

0:33:20.4 JT: Okay.

0:33:20.7 LC: But I have The Devil May Dance and the new one, All the Demons Are Here. And this is historical fiction. I have so many questions about when in the world you have time to do this when we see you hosting two shows every week. But tell us a little bit about this series which follows Congressman Charlie Marder and his fabulous wife, Margaret.

0:33:50.4 JT: Yeah, the wife is the star.

0:33:51.1 LC: Who is a fully drawn character.

0:33:53.4 JT: Yes.

0:33:54.5 LC: Not an appendage to her husband. She's a zoologist.

0:33:57.3 JT: Yeah.

0:33:58.4 LC: And you're following their life in the first two books through the 1950s and the 1960s. And then this one in the 1970s picks up with they're kids, Ike, named after Dwight Eisenhower, and Lucy, who is a journalist.

0:34:14.3 JT: Yes. Lucy's the one, of all the characters, Lucy's the one who's probably the most like me. She's a young, ambitious journalist with many annoying habits of correcting people. Like if you misuse the word irony, she will be all over you.

0:34:30.8 LC: That was a good part.

0:34:32.6 JT: All over you. Do not misuse the word irony.

0:34:34.2 LC: Yes. But, you know, these books...

0:34:41.8 JT: They're fun for me to write.

0:34:41.9 LC: They're fun? 

0:34:42.8 JT: For me to write.

0:34:44.0 LC: So, I mean, the level of detail and you're very clear in the notes in the book when you're like, yeah, this isn't true.

0:34:51.4 JT: Right.

0:34:51.8 LC: But there's a lot in here that tracks with the historical traits of the people you're writing about. I loved Devil May Dance because it's set in the '60s and it's about the Rat Pack and it's like Sinatra and Martin and Sammy Davis. And you know, you feel like you're hanging out with them all night on Bender's. And...

0:35:11.9 JT: I wrote it during COVID. And honestly, I mean, during the first year of COVID. And it was fun to take a break from the despair of COVID during the quarantine.

0:35:25.5 LC: And write about murder.

0:35:27.7 JT: Well...


0:35:29.4 LC: Yeah.

0:35:32.3 JT: No, but like... No.


0:35:33.7 JT: But it was fun to like spend an hour drinking and eating Italian food with the Rat Pack.

0:35:43.9 LC: Yeah.

0:35:44.3 JT: You know what I mean? Like that was fun. And then...

0:35:46.8 LC: Well, that's what I was gonna ask you about your rhythm. Like did you have a certain time of day that did you set aside time and say, okay from 6:00 to 7:00 AM I'm gonna write my book.

0:36:01.0 JT: So it depends on like when, Like what era I'm writing the book. Right? 

0:36:04.6 LC: Okay.

0:36:06.4 JT: So during COVID, I had... During the five months that I was working at home, I had more free time because I had no commute. I had no meetings, et cetera. But generally speaking, I write whenever... I write every day when I'm in the middle of a writing project. I write every day. My wife takes the kids to school at 7:35. And I get my first call for my show at 8:30. So 7:35 to 8:30, I'm definitely writing. And then whenever I can steal time, I usually travel with my laptop if I'm traveling. And I usually write in Google Docs so that I can always have access to it wherever I am. And that's it. If I'm in the middle of a writing project, I try to write for at least 15 minutes a day. George RR Martin says that writers are either gardeners or architects. And I'm an architect. I'm an architect. I outline everything ahead of time. And so, yeah. So that's how I do it. And so I know the plot. And I know who did it. And I know where I'm going. And I know the scenes. I mean, some stuff pops up as I'm writing and rewriting. I definitely take advantage of editing. I hire editors on my own, out of my own pocket.

0:37:34.8 JT: 'Cause I think the more editors, the better. I want more editing. I don't get, like, frankly, I don't get enough from the publisher. Which is not to say that they don't do it. But, like, one editor is not enough. I want more eyes. One of the things about journalism, especially TV journalism is, it's...

0:37:54.3 LC: So team based.

0:37:56.1 JT: It's so collaborative. And that generally, not always, but generally is good. Generally, the more eyes on something, the better. Sometimes not. But, like, I think so.

0:38:06.8 LC: And my sense in reading this, let's just stick with All The Demons Are Here since that's the most recent. Is that... Yes, this is about the 1970s. And it's about this fictional family. But a lot of it reads, really.

0:38:20.0 JT: Sure.

0:38:22.7 LC: It's very familiar territory, right? You've got a congressman and his wife in the 1970s. You know, Nixon, Watergate's just happened. And his daughter, Lucy, works for a Washington paper where she's not Being acknowledged at all as a young reporter.

0:38:42.0 JT: I mean it's a tabloid.

0:38:43.0 LC: And well, she, then she gets hired by the Sentinel, which is a tabloid in the rise of the tabloid era. And the family is pretty...

0:38:53.5 JT: The Murdochs.

0:38:55.9 LC: Clearly the Murdochs.

0:38:56.0 JT: It's the Murdochs. Yeah.

0:38:58.2 LC: Yeah. And one of the things in the beginning when I was asking you about getting things wrong, and you said you're trying your best on air to acknowledge that you don't know what's happening, but you don't know what's happening on the Chiron or the headline that's being put. And this is something that happens to Lucy in the book, that she gets hired to cover this murder in DC and she's doing her best as a young aspiring lawyer. And she gets hired by this tabloid and she...

0:39:27.4 JT: Young aspiring journalist. Yeah.

0:39:31.3 LC: Aspiring journalist. And she gets hired. She does her first story, hits the front page, and she's like, Whoa.

0:39:35.6 JT: Yeah. They've goosed it.

0:39:37.3 LC: Yeah. And...

0:39:38.4 JT: They've sensationalized it. Yeah.

0:39:39.7 LC: To a degree that makes her so uncomfortable. But she's trying to start out in her career. And I felt, wow, any 22-year-old who's reading this could really identify with this kid, basically.

0:39:53.7 JT: A friend of mine who used to write for the New York Post, asked me how I knew so much about the inner workings of the New York Post. And I said, I just guessed it's not that difficult to figure out.


0:40:07.0 LC: Yeah.

0:40:08.5 JT: It's not that complicated. But I did do a lot of research about Murdoch and how he runs his organizations. I read a bunch of books and saw a documentary, and it's just, he runs his organizations based on the premise that news, consumer behavior is based on two emotions, rage or fear. And that's it. Rage or fear that drives everything. It's not based on providing information to the consumer. It's based on rage or fear. And once you know that you understand everything that Fox or the New York Post or any Murdoch publication does with the possible exception of the news people at the Wall Street Journal, because that's what they do. It's rage or fear. And, yeah. So 1977, when the book takes place is this Wild year in America. It's the Son of Sam Murders. It's the rise of tabloid journalism. It's the death of Elvis. It's the first year of Jimmy Carter. It's...

0:41:09.6 LC: Evel Knievel's...

0:41:11.0 JT: Evel Knievel is a...

0:41:11.0 LC: Is a big character.

0:41:12.7 JT: Is a big character in the book. It's Evel Knievel literally jumps over sharks. This is like six months before Fonz does it.


0:41:22.7 JT: And it's a Studio 54 opens, Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, the New York City blackout, all this stuff in one year. And, it was fun to write about it. But yeah, I mean, I definitely write these books to comment on what's going on now as seen through the past. So the Hellfire Club was a thriller, but it was also, Joe McCarthy was a character in it, and there is clear connective tissue. Joe McCarthy's protege was Roy Cohn. Roy Cohn's protege was Donald Trump. I mean, it's not, I didn't make it up. It's just a fact. So, when you go back and look at Joe McCarthy, they say, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. And when you write about Joe McCarthy, you can't help but hear rhymes.

0:42:14.8 LC: Right. And and then in The Devil May Dance, which is about sort of the exploitation of young starlets in Hollywood.

0:42:24.4 JT: Yeah.

0:42:24.7 LC: It tracked right along with the MeToo movement.

0:42:29.4 JT: Yeah. Hasn't changed that much.

0:42:31.3 LC: Yeah. And then...

0:42:33.4 JT: There's Even a little Epstein's Island.

0:42:36.8 LC: Yes, there is.

0:42:39.5 JT: Except it's in Disney World or Disneyland, sorry.

0:42:39.6 LC: Yes. With a very...

0:42:40.5 JT: In my book.

0:42:40.6 LC: Very creepy scene on a boat on a canoe and Yeah. And this book, when I started reading and it was like Evel Knievel, like, I haven't even heard that name in decades. What's the...

0:42:52.0 JT: Do people here know who Evel Knievel was? 


0:42:58.6 JT: So I think a lot of younger people don't. Evel Knievel was this stunt man in the '60s and '70s. He was a motorcyclist. He wasn't a particularly good motorcyclist. He was just willing to do stunts that nobody else would do. So, he would jump over like 10 double decker buses, and maybe he would make it or not. And but people would watch it. And he would do these insane stunts. There was a show called ABC Wide World of Sports that was sometimes sports, and sometimes it was people jumping over double decker buses in their motorcycles. And he was a huge celebrity. Huge. And he was the inspiration for a lot of extreme athletes you see today, like Tony Hawk and Johnny Knoxville did a documentary about him, called Being Evel. And this quintessentially American archetype, this character full of bravado and charisma and just outspoken allowed, but people would flock to see him. And he was a fascinating character.

0:44:05.6 LC: And a terrible person.

0:44:07.3 JT: A horrible person. Horrible. In fact, his life rights people have been in Hollywood trying to figure out how to make the movie of him for decades. And you can't, I realized when I did research about him, why they've never made it, it's because he's horrible. And there's no third act, he doesn't become a better person at the end of his life. He's a horrible wife beating racist anti-Semitic drunk, and then he dies.


0:44:42.9 LC: Yeah. And so he made a good character.

0:44:46.4 JT: He's a good foil.

0:44:46.5 LC: Yes.

0:44:46.6 JT: But he's not a good main character.

0:44:49.7 LC: But, and it's a commentary on sort of our obsession with celebrities.

0:44:54.7 JT: Celebrities. Yeah.

0:44:55.4 LC: And the books just a lot about demagoguery and...

0:45:00.5 JT: Felt like, so I didn't know. So when, so I wrote, the first book was about the '50s, and the second book was about the '60s. So it kind of like made sense that I had to write about the '70s for the third one. And a friend of mine who is obsessed with Evel Knievel told me that I needed to put Evel Knievel. And I was just like it Evel Knievel's charm completely escaped me as a kid. Like, I was just, I didn't get it. Friends of mine had the lunchbox, friends of mine had the toy where you could like wind it up and like the motorcycle would jump over stuff I didn't understand. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't, I was like into the $6 million man. It's not like I was reading, Adrenals Ho. Right? I mean, I was watching Super Friends, but like, I didn't understand it, but he was this character, this, it is this archetype, this like, whether it's PT Barnum or Donald Trump or Muhammad Ali, there is this character this larger than life character. Muhammad Ali doesn't really belong in that group, but you know what I mean? This bragger.

0:46:02.3 LC: Yeah.

0:46:04.2 JT: That... And...

0:46:07.7 LC: And he sort of... He also had a little bit, I don't think you were trying to write Trump into him, but also this thing where like Yeah, he's cool. He tells it like it is.

0:46:15.2 JT: Oh, I was definitely trying to write Trump into him.

0:46:17.4 LC: He's a tough guy.


0:46:18.6 JT: No, no, no. That was definitely supposed to be him. Yeah.

0:46:19.7 LC: Okay.

0:46:21.2 JT: Yeah. But it was right there. I mean, it's just right there.

0:46:25.6 LC: Yeah. And well, and at some point, wasn't there something that was happening in real culture where people talked about, oh, he could be president? 

0:46:35.2 CW: Well, yeah. No, the Butte Montana Chamber of Commerce ran him for president, like, as a joke or like as a stunt in '72. And, I mean, and it was a thing. I mean, I have a Evel Knievel for President button at home that's real. That, I mean, celebrities running for president isn't, Donald Trump was not... He's part of a long tradition of I mean, Ronald Reagan was a two term governor of California, but he was also a famous actor like, this is a thing. Zelensky might be the Winston Churchill of our time, but he was an actor. I mean, it is a thing.

0:47:12.0 LC: Yeah.

0:47:12.1 S4: Gracie Allen.

0:47:14.6 JT: What? 

0:47:14.9 S4: Gracie Allen.

0:47:16.7 JT: Gracie Allen? 

0:47:20.1 S4: She ran for the Surprise Party.

0:47:22.1 JT: Is that right? I did not know that.

0:47:23.1 LC: That's another book there. Yeah. And the journalism part, Lord Lucy's storyline where she is really tryna make a serious career for herself and just gets sucked in to this very sensationalist paper. But as I was reading it, in the '70s Yes. Tabloid journalism, but has a little bit of that culture. It is the expression of that culture, cable news today? 

0:48:01.1 JT: I think there is the sensationalism that arose in our media that started to a great degree in the era of tabloid journalism in 1977, I think is with us in all facets of journalism. Whether it's clickbait on social media, cable network, TV I mean, I think it's everywhere. And it's part of the... And this is just an age old, dilemma in journalism, which is sales versus information. And this goes back to the war, the Hearst.

0:48:52.1 LC: Sure.

0:48:52.2 JT: The Hearst battles of, remember the Maine when the newsstand sales when they were selling the Spanish American War, I mean, even before, long before the tabloid wars in 1977. So that's always been part of the push and pull of journalism, of commercial journalism. But I do think that Murdoch and what he did... First of all, I think there is in writing the character of Max Lyon, who is the Rupert Murdoch character, I tried to not make him just a mustache twirling villain. I tried to like get into Murdoch's head as to what is his view of journalism? What is his philosophy of journalism? And one of the things that he thinks is that, mainstream journalism in 1977 was talked down to readers. And there is an argument to be made that if you go back and look at how the New York Times covered the Son of Sam murders, they weren't really covering it. And he was major serial killers stalking the outer Borough, the outer Borough individuals. And maybe they should have covered it more.

0:49:52.8 LC: Right.

0:49:53.7 JT: So there is an argument to be made that there was a hole. And...

0:49:57.3 LC: For them to step into.

0:50:03.4 JT: Yeah. For the New York Times, and I mean, for the New York Post and the New York Daily News to fill. But beyond that, I think the question is, if all you care about is clicks and newsstand sales and circulation, and you don't care at all about the truth and the facts, you end up with a $787.5 million settlement with dominion election system. So I mean, that's...


0:50:26.3 JT: There's nothing wrong with wanting people to read your newspaper, wanting people to watch your show. But if all you care about is that, and you don't care about the responsibility, the grave responsibility, we have to be fair, and to be honest, then you are, a cancer on the democracy we have, which is, I think what you see when you have what we have with what Murdoch's creations have become.

0:51:00.3 LC: The other thing that's running through the narrative of the Martyr family. So there's this commentary on journalism, also commentary on politics. Charlie Murdoch, he's a war hero, sincere Republican.

0:51:22.1 JT: He's a moderate Republican. In the tradition of...

0:51:23.2 LC: Who's watching...

0:51:24.5 JT: Eisenhower. Who's watching... Yeah.

0:51:26.2 LC: Who's watching his, he names his kid, Ike. And he's watching his party change as Watergate unfolds and looking at, there's this scene with Howard Baker and he's trying to say, well, look how much he's, he had to really go out there and challenge Nixon and...

0:51:47.6 JT: Right.

0:51:49.0 LC: His wife's like...

0:51:49.7 JT: His wife doesn't buy it.

0:51:50.3 LC: Yes.

0:51:51.8 JT: Yeah.

0:51:52.9 LC: And so what are you saying about American politics through the struggle of this family? 

0:52:01.9 JT: Charlie is Charlie. So, Charlie Martyr, as you know is a World War II hero. He's the main character of the first two books. And he's kind of a secondary character in the most recent book. Charlie Martyr is a World War II hero. He's an Eisenhower Republican. He's a General, Eisenhower is his hero, and President Eisenhower. But the General is his hero.

0:52:23.6 LC: Yeah.

0:52:24.0 JT: And, he is a conservative Republican, but a 1950s conservative Republican. So he believes in civil rights, and he believes in an internationalist foreign policy. And then he's just watches his party change. And so, he wouldn't exist in the Republican party today, but in 1977, he's watching his party change. He likes Gerald Ford. He likes Nelson Rockefeller, and he's watching his party change. He likes George HW Bush, and his wife Margaret is a zoologist, and Margaret is liberal, and he and his wife fight about what his party is becoming.

0:53:18.8 JT: And his kids are, their politics are undefined, really. But, they're arguing about what the party is, and he wants to believe the best of what Howard Baker, who's then the Republican leader in the Senate is, and then the Democratic leader is Robert Byrd, the former Ku Klux Klan. Grand Kleagle. And so Charlie had, Charlie feels like he has a look at that. Disgusting guy's got a point. But Margaret doesn't buy it. What not that she likes Robert Byrd, but she doesn't buy what Howard Baker's all about.

0:53:56.7 LC: Right.

0:53:57.6 JT: She thinks that he, Charlie's fooling himself. And so their tension is a lot like the tension that the Republicans are going through right now. Except there aren't a lot of...

0:54:06.5 LC: Margaret, there aren't lot of Charlie's, there aren't lot Charlie's left.

0:54:10.1 JT: There aren't a lot of Charlie's. I mean, Charlie is, Romney or Kinzinger or Liz Cheney. I mean, there aren't just, aren't a lot of them left.

0:54:22.5 LC: Yeah. In a early pages of the book, one of the things that, as you're reading it, I was like, is this real? Did he make this part up or is this real? And I'm trying...

0:54:29.0 JT: I have a whole bunch of end notes. I love doing the end notes.

0:54:31.8 LC: Yes. And I'm like, I don't know this Led Zeppelin song, [laughter] this. And then I go to the back and I was like, oh, it's 'cause you made it up. But it's a good song.

0:54:39.9 JT: Are you gonna sing it? 

0:54:42.5 LC: No, I'm not gonna, it's 'cause it's not a real song. So I don't know how it goes, but the lyrics, I read it and I was like, oh yeah, well that's right now, everyone getting crazy desperation in the air, the storm made the trip and crash and crashed the ship. We were all in deep despair. Ferdinand Saw the Evil knew from once it came. The cursed love the gods above the ship consumed by Flame, Hell is empty and all the demons are here.

0:55:12.9 JT: It'd sound better if you sang it.

0:55:13.2 LC: Yeah. Well, it sound better if Robert Plant sang it.

0:55:15.7 JT: Right? 

0:55:17.4 LC: Yeah.

0:55:19.6 JT: So let me tell you about making up songs. 'Cause it's actually not a bad story. So when I wrote The Outpost, which is a real, which is a nonfiction book about Afghanistan that came out in 2012. I had this scene where these guys are driving these LTVs, which are like light trucks in Afghanistan, and they're listening to, ACDC. And it was just, it was real. And the lawyers made me cut it out because you can only put like one line in a book or like the publishers will sue you for stealing the lyrics. I'm like, but it's real, it really happened just like at the end of the Outpost, they were singing Folsom City Blues. Like somebody actually had a guitar and was singing Johnny Cash, and they said, you can't put it in there. I'm like, what? The, it happened. It really happened. They sang this, it doesn't matter. When they made the movie The Outpost, I wanted them to do that, but it would've cost like $200,000. So there went that. Anyway then I wrote, the Hellfire Club, and I had the same problem. I wanted to put a bunch of, it really helps with the atmospherics.

0:56:28.9 LC: It does.

0:56:30.2 JT: To put in like a song from an era. But again, with like one line and like, I would put in like two, I like would try to sneak it in like two lines and the Tapper. So I cut it out just one line. So then I wrote The Devil May Dance, and Frank Sinatra is a major character in The Devil May Dance.

0:56:49.4 LC: So major. Yes.

0:56:53.9 JT: And so there are, there is a climactic scene that takes like The Devil May Dance. The title is a song that Frank Sinatra is nominated for an Academy award for. And there's a climactic scene where he's singing the song, the Devil May Dance at the Academy Awards while there's this whole thing going on in the rafters. And I just put the whole song in there, the entire song, and the lawyers call up and they're like, what.

0:57:18.8 LC: What are you doing? 

0:57:23.8 JT: What are you doing? I'm like, it's not a real song. I wrote the whole thing. I invented it. You can Google it, you won't find it anywhere.


0:57:31.5 JT: And they're like, oh, it's 'cause it reads like a real song. I'm like, aha.

0:57:37.5 LC: It did like it, it was a swinging song.

0:57:39.4 JT: I made it up and then I made up two other songs in there too. Gotcha.


0:57:45.0 JT: And then... So then I... And then we just...

0:57:47.9 LC: So how does this Led Zeppelin song go? Can you sing it? 

0:57:52.1 JT: No.

0:57:53.3 LC: Oh, okay.


0:57:55.4 JT: But we are, all the not all the demons are here. The Devil May Dance we're gonna make it a TV show, a streamer.

0:58:00.0 LC: Really? 

0:58:01.5 JT: With Christian Slater playing Charlie.

0:58:03.4 LC: Oh my goodness.

0:58:05.4 JT: So somebody's gonna sing it.

0:58:06.1 LC: Wow.

0:58:06.5 JT: I don't know what it sounds like.

0:58:07.7 LC: But so have you written the music or did you just write the lyrics? 

0:58:11.5 JT: I can't even sing the ABCs.

0:58:15.2 LC: Okay.

0:58:16.0 JT: But somebody's gonna have to come up with a tune, but, anyway.

0:58:18.5 LC: That's very cool.

0:58:21.2 JT: Yeah.

0:58:23.0 LC: We should go to questions.

0:58:23.2 JT: Yes. Only nice ones.

0:58:25.2 LC: So, Elizabeth, you've been following questions from the audience.

0:58:31.4 Elizabeth Aguilera: Yes, we have. Oh.

0:58:32.1 CW: Can't hear you.

0:58:32.8 CW: I'm not on yet.

0:58:33.0 CW: There you are.

0:58:33.2 JT: Okay, great. Hello, I'm Elizabeth Aguilera. I'm a Knight-Wallace Fellow And this is...

0:58:40.6 Mila Koumpilova: Mila Koumpilova. Also Knight-Wallace Fellow.

0:58:41.2 JT: By the way. I bring greetings from Chris Wallace who says, hello. And like, this is the best bunch of students that I will ever meet in my life.

0:58:50.7 LC: Yeah. Thank you.


0:58:58.2 JT: Even though he went to Harvard. Boo! 

0:59:04.7 EA: Well we have many questions from students, alumni, and even some parents.

0:59:07.8 JT: Awesome. Great.

0:59:09.3 EA: So we want to go back, to the beginning of your conversation about your recent trip to Israel and talk about what this is a question from Allison Hess who's a student. What is CNN doing to combat misinformation related to the Israel Hamas conflict? 

0:59:27.7 JT: I mean, it's a... There is a very intense process of getting information on the air. I mean, like in terms of now when information is, is live, or interviews are live, that's more challenging obviously, than when a piece is taped. But I just know having gone through the process for the taped pieces I've done, it's a very intense process about, what goes on air, what doesn't go on air. Is there proof of it? Is there not proof of it? 

1:00:08.3 LC: How many people in your team, producers and fact checkers and...

1:00:11.7 JT: Well, I mean, it's not just my team. I mean it's me and a producer. And then we also had a producer in Israel who spoke Hebrew, who helped us translate things. But, and then there are other people on the ground in the bureau that was the, there's a Jerusalem bureau, but there's also a temporary Tel Aviv bureau. But then there's also just this huge infrastructure, of standards and lawyers and other people who like go over things. And so, like CNN like any news media organization is made up of human beings and human beings are fallible. But there is a tremendous effort to make sure that everything that gets on air has been vetted and is as factual as possible. It's, news is the best first draft of history and obviously things change, facts change, information changes, but everybody's trying their best to make sure that it is correct information.

1:01:10.6 EA: Great. Here's a second question from Adelaide Depacaras, who's also a student. She says, how has international media coverage of the conflict been perceived in terms of bias? And what factors do you think contribute to this perception? 

1:01:27.4 JT: I think first of all, that no matter what we report, there is always gonna be accusations of bias from all sides. There just is, it just always is going to be, if you even mention the pain of one side or the other, people are going to say that's bias. It just is that just I've covered this conflict long enough to know that even acknowledging Palestinian pain is gonna bring a charge of bias from the Israeli side and vice versa. I wish I had my phone with me. 'Cause I got an email that was just amazing with some, a woman accused, like saying, I don't appreciate your coverage. You cover the Israeli pain and then the next block you cover Palestinian pain. I wish you would just pick a side.


1:02:28.2 JT: Which I thought was interesting. And, so I think that first of all, the conflict writ large has been going on for quite some time. And that just has to be acknowledged. Also, this conflict is not just Israel and Gaza. There is also Israel and the West Bank. That is another conflict. It is almost a separate conflict, but it is not entirely a separate conflict. And there are just so many nuances, that you can't even honestly fairly cover this conflict, even just in and, even in a two hour show. And just acknowledging that I think is helpful. Like we will never, ever produce... I'm lucky enough that I have two hours, but I will never be able to do a two hour coverage of this conflict. That will be perfect. I just won't, it's just impossible.

1:03:41.8 JT: So all I can do is do the best that I can and just acknowledge the humanity and the pain that exists. And just try to be as honest as I can with the viewers about what is going on any one individual day. But I don't, I can't pretend to think that, like I know that what the Israel defense forces are doing is the correct thing. Is the correct response. I don't know that, why would I know that? I can't say that. On the other hand, I also think it is a fair question. Well, what would any other country do if that happened to them? I think that is also a fair question to ask. I could go on, I could ask 3000 questions. This going back and forth like this.

1:04:35.4 EA: Right.

1:04:38.1 JT: Why did, how come nobody has said, nevermind, you get it. I mean.

1:04:42.2 EA: Thank you.

1:04:44.2 JT: Anyway. [laughter]

1:04:44.6 EA: No, that's... So alum, Uamalum Steve Ross asks or says, you seem to have become more expressive of your personal views and attitudes on your CNN shows, which he finds helpful. Is this current practice intentional? And if so, why? 

1:05:01.3 JT: I don't know that I have, I really don't. Maybe I'm just, more tired.


1:05:14.5 JT: I really, I know, I really honestly don't know that I have, I just... I think maybe just the presentation is.

1:05:22.4 JT: Right. So Paul Rieger, who's also an alum...

1:05:25.6 JT: I will say that, like, I might be more willing to say things like...

1:05:30.9 LC: This shit's not a game.


1:05:32.8 JT: I did curse for the first time. I'm always willing to curse if I'm quoting somebody.

1:05:38.7 LC: Yeah.

1:05:40.2 JT: I enjoy that loophole.


1:05:42.0 JT: But I did curse the other day and I actually kind of regret it. I wish... 'cause I came up with a better line after, but that didn't have a curse. I will say I am more willing to do things like where Nancy Mace said that Jim Jordan, the Democrats trust Jim Jordan. I'm more willing to say like Jim Jordan from Ohio. Like I'm more willing to do like that kind of thing, but that's not more my opinion. That's just more like funny.

1:06:07.8 EA: It's expressive though, right? [laughter]

1:06:09.8 JT: Yeah. It's just kind of like funny. I don't know. It just, it's like, it's just like a more engaging way of making the same point. Do you know what I mean? Like, I could've said like, "Madam, are you really claiming... " It's just like, maybe it just like a more broadcasty way of making the same point I could make a little bit more humorlessly. That's all.

1:06:31.6 LC: It's bringing yourself, it seems like, 'cause he wrote expressive.

1:06:34.1 JT: Maybe a little bit more of me.

1:06:34.6 LC: Yeah, a little more of you.

1:06:36.0 JT: But it's not more opinion.

1:06:37.4 LC: Right.

1:06:39.1 JT: Okay.

1:06:39.6 EA: So Paul Rieger also an alum asked, is this one's about democracy? Is our democracy more in crisis now than other pivotal times in history such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, racial segregation, the McCarthy hearings? If so, why? 

1:06:55.5 JT: I'm not a big fan of the comparing. Like I said before, I don't wanna compare the pain of what I experienced in Israel compared to the pain of Ukraine or the pain in Gaza or the... I don't like to do that just because I don't even know how one, quantifies anything like that. But I do think democracy is in a great, great deal of peril right now. Because right now we do not only have a large chunk of the country that has been convinced that lies about the election are true, and I honestly think that they are victims. I honestly perceive these people to be victims of a lie industrial complex that is, MAGA Republicans, Republicans who know better, who are keeping their mouth shut, Murdoch and that crowd. And, like that there is a group that is just like for fun and profit and power has just lied to so many people about the 2020 election that so many Americans, republicans, some independents now believe this lie that is really, really dangerous.

1:08:22.0 JT: I will say I was very happy to see in the 2022 election, including in this great state, those people who were running for statewide office not win. Including in Arizona. The only Republican who won statewide was the one who was not an election liar. And all the others lost, but election liars in individual congressional districts did win. So that's distressing. But what's worse about it now, in my view, than what, than in 2022, is that now violence is an accepted part of the threat of violence is now an accepted part of this lie. The threat of violence is now an accepted part of this lie. And we know from accounts from people like Mitt Romney and Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, that one of the reasons lots of Republicans did not vote to impeach Donald Trump was because they were worried. They were worried about violence against them and their family members. And this is not something... This is a real danger, this is a real danger to... And there are Republicans I know, including in this great state who retired from politics because of it.

1:09:40.7 JT: And that's really bad. That's really dangerous to have good people retire because they're afraid of violence to themselves or their family. So I am very concerned about it. And, the silence of leaders. I keep mentioning Mitt Romney Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and The silence of leaders other than those three, is very distressing.

1:10:06.9 LC: Elizabeth, I wanna stay here for a second because the series that we have you as part of is called Democracy in Crisis.

1:10:16.9 JT: Yeah.

1:10:19.7 LC: And we co-sponsor this with the Ford School that is creating the next generation of public policy experts.

1:10:26.3 JT: This is a Gerald Ford School, right? 

1:10:28.3 LC: It is, yeah.

1:10:29.5 JT: Okay. I just wanna make sure it wasn't Henry.

1:10:32.8 LC: Yeah.


1:10:32.9 JT: Okay. I should have checked before. Right? I'm a bigger fan of Gerald than Henry. Let's just leave it at that.

1:10:41.7 LC: But we actually have this series and we've brought several journalists over the past couple of years to talk about this because we actually do want students to be engaging with the idea that, hey, there are things that are happening now that are really not normal.

1:10:57.2 JT: Yeah.

1:10:58.7 LC: And very detrimental. If you could just talk to the students, when you think about the democracy being in peril, what would you say to the students who are about to graduate and enter this brutal workforce that we talked about at the beginning? How do we turn this around? 

1:11:22.5 JT: How do we turn around? Which part of it? 

1:11:25.7 LC: The part of society that's not believing facts, not trusting the news, not trusting higher education, creating a situation where it is very likely that as a public official, if you do something that people don't like, you may be facing threats of violence or people acting on violence. How do we course correct? 

1:11:54.8 JT: I mean, I was told there was gonna be no math on this exam.


1:11:58.9 JT: I don't know. I will say that I do think it's our obligation, as people, let's just say. 'Cause I don't view that, I mean, obviously I don't view this as a partisan issue, even though obviously Republicans are part of the problem here. But not all Republicans and I do think that it is important for people who are not part of this lie industrial complex, to not lower themselves to the same kind of behavior, which means it's okay to disagree. Let's just, I'm just gonna mention Adam Kinzinger for, because I think he's a good person. Okay. Adam Kinzinger is a conservative Republican and you might disagree with him on every issue. Or Liz Cheney. Liz Cheney is a conservative Republican. You might disagree with her on every issue or Mitt Romney. Again, these three.

1:12:57.8 JT: You should be able to disagree with them without calling them names. There is something bigger going on right now than politics. And by politics you might, I understand that there are really important issues having to do with reproductive rights and LGBT rights and civil rights. And I am not belittling any of them. But if democracy goes out the window, there is nothing else. There is nothing else. Everything else is there is progress being made. And progress doesn't look like a straight line. It never does. It's always back and forth. It's always back and forth. But if democracy goes out the window, and I think people don't understand how most countries are not democratic.

1:13:41.4 LC: Yeah.

1:13:43.7 JT: It is fragile. There are countries in the world that used to have democracy and now don't. It happens. I'm not saying it's gonna happen in this country, but it has happened to places. And once democracy goes, it's really tough to get it back. And it is fine to disagree with people. It is fine to call them names. It is fine to exercise your first Amendment rights against them and think that they're wrong about issues. But please understand that democracy is more important than anything else. Because the right to elect people or defeat them at the ballot box is the most sacred thing. It is what separates the United States from most other countries. And I think we take it for granted because we've had it so long. Although we haven't really had it that long because we've only really had it since the '60s.

1:14:41.0 LC: That's right.

1:14:44.2 JT: So I just think that people need to understand how fragile this democracy is. It's the American experiment. It's not the American proven theorem. We don't know that it's gonna work. We're hoping it works. We're teetering right now.

1:15:00.2 LC: Yeah.

1:15:01.1 JT: It's like three states. This is one of them. My home, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of them. You got Wisconsin, those three go. That's it. And so people really just need to understand that however much you hate Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, Adam Kinzinger, like it is important that they value democracy and you can't lump them in with Donald Trump. There needs to be a news... What's the word I'm looking for? 

1:15:42.4 JT: There just needs to be a civic awareness where people understand the stakes when it comes to these elections. Everything depends on the democracy because once that goes, there's nothing else. You can't fight for any rights if there's no elections. If somebody can just say, I don't like the results of those elections, therefore I won, then there's no LGBT rights. There's no abortion rights there's nothing. If you can just declare yourself the winner because you don't like the results. And that is what Donald Trump tried to do. And there's like, you replaced like 15 people in positions of power across the country, and he wins. He succeeds in that corrupt enterprise. And most people in his party refused to do anything about it. We all saw it happen. And this isn't partisan. This has nothing to do with his political views. This has everything to do with his disdain for democracy. And so I just think that the respect we have for people who stand up for democracy is important. That's all.

1:17:10.3 LC: Thank you.


1:17:24.0 LC: Thank you for that answer. No more questions about Matt.


1:17:26.8 JT: Yeah.

1:17:28.0 EA: And you answered what was gonna be the next question, so we'll go on to the next one, which is from Sean.

1:17:32.3 JT: It's Like I answered like 15 Questions.

1:17:34.0 EA: Michael Steele is a student. He says, how do you reconcile the press' responsibility in combating, misleading or inaccurate information with providing airtime to public figures who routinely lie or mislead their audiences? And there were many questions along that line, so I think a lot of people are interested.

1:17:50.1 JT: It's a really good, it's a good question, and one that we wrestle with all the time. Because two thirds of the House Republican Conference voted to undermine the elections, right? Do you never have any of them on? What about the, what about if, do you have them on if they're discussing some other issue? It is an issue that, I have wrestled with publicly, much to, CNN PR's chagrin. So shortly after the election of 2020 and the efforts to undermine the election, I was doing a podcast interview with Kara Swisher, and I said something along the lines of like, we should be, at least... People in the media should be having a conversation about whether or not we even book election liars, because if they're willing to lie about the election, what else are they willing to lie about? 

1:18:52.3 JT: And I thought this would be like a moment in journalism or like, it would cause a great conversation. And instead, like I turned around and was like, let's see, in an animal house where like, Belushi's like, alright, who's with me? Literally nobody following him.


1:19:12.5 JT: Anyway, I have had Election Liars on, and I have had them on sparingly, and I've had them on to not talk about that. I've had them on when I have had a need to talk about them, talk with them specifically about something that I had to talk with them about. For instance, the Sunday before Matt Gaetz, single-handedly caused us to not have a speaker of the house for a month. I had him on my show and I wasn't gonna ask him about the election. He was gonna make news and I had him on. And it's not like... It's my proudest moment, but it was newsy, he was gonna make news. It was very relevant to what was about to happen, and I don't have a problem with it.

1:20:26.7 JT: It's a dilemma because this is the party that controls the House of Representatives, and two thirds of them voted to undermine the election. And I take it quite personally because, I'm from Pennsylvania, and so they literally voted to not count the votes of my mom and dad. And so that pisses me off, and it's based on lies. It's based on complete nonsense. So it is something that I struggle with every time we book one of these folks. And all I can tell you is I wrestle with it every time, and I try to book them sparingly and, but I can't avoid, I can't avoid them altogether because they keep getting elected. And I live in the United States, and I cover the United States Congress, but I try to avoid conversing with them about subjects that I know they will lie. That's the best I can do. You people keep electing them.


1:21:42.2 JT: And I'm talking about you in this room, specifically.


1:21:45.9 EA: That may lead to the next question. So, Shane Baum, who's a student here, asks, in recent times, what has been the most difficult obstacle journalists have faced because of the nation's polarization? 

1:22:00.4 JT: It's difficult to complain about having to, like, interview liars. That's not, especially after coming back from like a war zone. I think the most difficult, part of... I think it's twofold. One is we constantly get death threats because Donald Trump has demonized us to the point that we get death threats. And if you are a woman or a person of color, the threats are far worse, at least anecdotally. And also if you're early on, in the Trump years, if you were Jewish, like in the 2015, 2016. So that's not fun. That's really ugly and nasty and not what any of us signed up for. And then also the degree to which Donald Trump specifically, because he wants to avoid accountability. So he has tried to do everything he can to undermine anyone who would provide accountability, not just reporters, but the judiciary. Any Republican who would challenge him. I mean, any institution, has demonized and undermined those groups. The degree to which, fake news and all that has caused the media to even be more siloed. So Republicans only watch this channel, and Progressives only watch that channel and all that stuff that's unhealthy for democracy. But the death threats are worse than that. But I think all of it's very unhealthy, and it's all much, much worse than it used to be. Much, much worse than it was in 2014. Much, much, much worse. As soon as he came down the escalator things started getting really bad.

1:24:01.9 EA: So Susan Levin, who's a community member, has a question about your career. What would you say has been a career or professional failure of yours? And what, if anything, did you learn from it? 

1:24:14.4 JT: There have been a lot. No one is harder on me than me, and there are any number of failures that I could think of. Right off the top of my head. Just as a general note I... It's so tough. Like, honestly, my mind is flooding with failures.


1:24:55.6 JT: Good lord. This is not gonna be one that pleases this audience, I don't think. But I do think that we spent too much time, covering, the Trump Russia investigation. In retrospect, I do think that we spent too much time tracking down, every little leak and thing. I just do like looking back on it, especially what it became, that to me was... And it's not just that, let me make it broader. I was thinking about this 'cause on the plane back from Israel, I was watching like a bunch of episodes of 30 Rock just to cleanse the palate. And there was an episode where, Ryan Lochte, Lochte, Lochte, Ryan Lochte remember him, like the, I think he was like a figure skater, and there was like a scandal involving him. Do you remember he like got drunk and something. Anybody remember this? 

1:25:49.4 S7: Yeah. Swimmer.

1:25:51.1 JT: Swimmer. Swimmer. Okay, sorry. Anyway, there was like some scandal 'cause he, got drunk in Tokyo, or I don't even know. That kind of bullshit story that the media goes crazy for anytime I've engaged in any of that, like I hate, and I hate that. I don't even know if I covered that. So, like, it's not like that story itself.

1:26:13.7 LC: But That Phenomenon.

1:26:15.7 JT: That phenomenon of there's some sort of stupid, and it's not just cable, it's all news media. And I remember one time, I don't even know if I was a journalist, but I remember my... No, I was, it was, my brother came back from studying abroad, and it was during Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, and he could not believe that the media was covering it as much as it was. And he was completely right. And every time something like that happens, and I don't mean a mass shooting or the war in Israel, or the war in Ukraine, or... And like, I don't mean like actual real serious stories, I mean stupid shit like Ryan Lochte, like whatever his name is, or Nancy Kerrigan. Like anytime the media... And it's, again it's network too. It's not just cable. Anytime I've participated in that, and, and honestly, to a degree, the Russia Gate investigation, we all went overboard on that. We did that any of that poop cruise, whatever, any of that.

1:27:21.3 LC: Taylor Swift and her...

1:27:22.5 JT: I haven't touched that, but yes.


1:27:28.3 JT: But any of that is bad. And I've always... You get pressure, you're supposed to do it. The audience, by the way, the audience plays a role in that too. And like you guys get let off the hook a lot. But like anytime I've played a role in that, I feel bad. I feel unclean, and I do because it's part of the job and like we're told to cover it and, I...

1:27:53.3 LC: One more.

1:27:54.4 JT: Okay.

1:27:54.5 LC: Okay. Yeah. And I as a journalist and for my fellow night Wallace Fellows, I think we share that sentiment when you see those stories about Brittany and.

1:28:02.6 JT: Not when you participate in them. Just when you see them, okay.

1:28:05.3 LC: See them, participate in them.

1:28:07.4 JT: Yeah. Now I hate it. I really do. Yeah.

1:28:11.1 LC: Wanna bring it back to your novels. Since its our last question, has your experience as a novelist intersected with your role as a journalist? And have your novels enhanced your understanding of current events and news topics? 

1:28:25.7 JT: I wish I could say yes, but they're really just two completely parts of my brain, two completely different parts of my brain fiction and nonfiction. They're just completely different. Fiction, honestly, I'm talking about writing now, not, covering like a grueling story, but just in terms of a writing project fiction is much tougher than writing nonfiction. Writing fiction is really difficult. Like I have a really, I've, now that I've written fiction, I am much more charitable, when I watch a TV show or watch a movie or read a book that I don't think maybe works as well and other people are much meaner about it online, I'm much more charitable. I'm just like, it's really tough. It's really tough to come up with a storyline in characters and whatever. And I'm much more, I always was kind of like a... Like after the last episode of Lost Aired and people were complaining about it. I was the first one to go online and say, oh, just enjoy it. You big babies, who cares? Just...


1:29:31.8 JT: But now even more so, I'm just like, just enjoy it and just shut up. They're just, people are trying their best. Now even more so, like fiction is just...


1:29:45.4 JT: Like, all these people with the Snyder cut, just shut up.


1:29:48.0 JT: People are trying their best to give you the best entertainment they can. If you want something to complain about, watch all that stupid reality TV. That's garbage.


1:30:00.6 JT: That is true Garbage.


1:30:04.1 JT: The people writing fiction, they're really trying, they really are. Like, they're really making an effort. Non-fiction, like my next book is gonna be Non-fiction and it's tough. Don't get me wrong, but like, I don't have to make anything up. It's all there. I just have to like carve, decide what not to include. That's all it is.

1:30:24.4 LC: What's the next book? 

1:30:24.4 JT: Oh, it's this really interesting story I stumbled upon where, it's about this guy. There, during the Arab Spring, there are all these migrants, from Tunisia and Libya flocking to this, this southern Italian island, and it just becomes overwhelmed with, migrants, refugees. So Butler Siconi starts, coming during cruise ships just to get them to the mainland. And there's this Italian green beret on one of them. And this guy comes over and asks him for water, one of the migrants, and he gives him water and he notices that he has bullet holes in his arm. He's like, where'd you get the bullet holes? And, long story short, he says, I got them in Afghanistan. I don't mean to brag, but I'm with Al-Qaeda. And long story short, they take him to a room and he starts talking anyway.

1:31:24.1 JT: Then he starts over, then he starts getting angry and the Italians take him to a jail in the mainland. And then they call the Americans and they say, we got a guy here. He says, he's killed Americans. If you want him, you can come interview him, but we can only hold him for 30 days. All we have him on is like hitting one of our guards. So then these guys from, New York come, these prosecutors come and they basically have 30 days. They know who he is, they've heard of him, and he is, he's real Al-Qaeda. And they basically have 30 days to prove he's Al-Qaeda prove he killed Americans, get evidence that shows he actually is this guy actually killed Americans. Figure out who he is, prove it in a court of law so that he actually will go to jail. And this is.

1:32:10.2 LC: In Italy? 

1:32:11.7 JT: No prove in the United States.

1:32:13.6 LC: Okay.

1:32:14.0 JT: And this is during the Obama years. So they can't send him to Gitmo, 'cause Obama's tryna close Gitmo, and like the clock is ticking and this guy is like, he's gonna kill America. It's like he's done it before. And so these guys now have the clock ticking down and they do it, and they find evidence, they figure out which battle it was. They've tracked down the soldiers. One soldier has like stuff that he stole from the battlefield in his attic, and they get this Quran and they take it down to Gitmo. And there's the woman from like NCIS with the purple hair, and she has a, they get the fingerprint and they take it down and it's his finger. It's just like this. Then there's this other guy at the Pentagon, and they take him into this room and it's like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And they get, it's just like all this, and they prove he is this guy and they prove that he killed him.

1:32:57.9 LC: What a story.

1:32:58.9 JT: And yeah, it's just crazy.

1:33:01.1 LC: So have you written it? 

1:33:02.1 JT: I'm writing it now, yeah.

1:33:03.8 LC: Wow.

1:33:04.9 JT: It's this crazy.

1:33:06.4 LC: In all your copious spare time.

1:33:07.1 JT: Well. This is how it happened. I'm at my son's, birthday party. We're playing paintball. I'm not playing. He's playing with his friends. And it's like out in the middle of nowhere, Virginia. 'Cause it's paintball and, so I'm like, have pizza and beer for the grownups 'cause we just have to sit around for two hours and, we're talking about the Outpost. And I'm like, yeah, that was really, I was talking with one of the dads, I was like, and it's really tough 'cause like the Army, the Pentagon keeps no records for anything. So I had to like, recreate everything. He's like, tell me about it. And like, he's one of the prosecutors.

1:33:40.6 LC: Wow. Wow.


1:33:45.0 JT: Yeah. So anyway, it's gonna be.

1:33:48.0 LC: Thank Goodness for paintball.

1:33:50.9 JT: Yeah, no, seriously, thank, yeah, thank goodness for paintball being in the middle of nowhere. So anyway. Yeah, no, and it's just this incredible story. And he's, yeah, he's, long story short, he's at a Supermax in Colorado.

1:34:02.7 LC: Wow.

1:34:02.9 JT: Yeah.

1:34:05.2 LC: That was a great kicker.


1:34:07.2 JT: Yeah.

1:34:08.5 LC: We are at time.

1:34:10.5 JT: You've been a great audience. Thank you so much. I really do.


1:34:19.9 JT: No, I mean it, like, I wasn't being flip when I told you that. Like, I got a little PTSD and I didn't know what to expect coming here. College campuses are a little dicey these days, as you may have read.


1:34:38.7 JT: And, you've really been, nice to me. So thank you so much. I really...


1:34:50.0 LC: And you've been extraordinarily nice to us all week. I kept saying, is he really still gonna come to Michigan? [laughter] Like, I was like all week. I was like, yeah, the chances of him coming are pretty slim. We really appreciate having you here. I have to say, the news has been so grim.

1:35:09.1 JT: Yeah. Yeah.

1:35:11.4 LC: And I have really enjoyed turning off the TV and spending my time with the Martyrs.

1:35:15.2 LC: Thank you.

1:35:16.5 LC: I really enjoy these books. So outside we have literati, our local bookseller, selling books and we encourage you to buy one. And, after you buy a book, if you've purchased a book, Jake's been enough to agree to a signing.

1:35:37.8 JT: Yeah. Come say hi. I'll sign your book.

1:35:39.8 LC: Not right out in this lobby, just because we want people to be able to flow out, but in the Michigan room, in the league, we're gonna come out of here. Take him over there.

1:35:48.8 JT: Ray, you don't have to buy one, although I know you can afford one.

1:35:52.7 LC: Yes.


1:35:54.5 LC: And so we'll see you over in the Michigan room and thank you so much for being a great audience. Thank you for being a great host.