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“I think that when you are in that chair, or standing there with a microphone, you are not there for yourself,” says CNN anchor Jake Tapper, whose new novel, The Hellfire Club, is a dark thriller set in 1950s Washington. “You’re there for the people at home and you should be asking the questions and conducting yourself in a way trying to think about what they would want you to do. ‘Well, you didn’t really answer that question, or isn’t it true that something’—we’re there to challenge that. At a time when there is just this waterfall cascading over us of bullshit, it’s important for us to put up an umbrella, try to provide a safe space for viewers to know we’re trying to not have any bullshit here.”
Already at the top of best-seller lists, The Hellfire Club follows the adventures of a novice congressman who stumbles into a sex-and-power conspiracy during the McCarthy era. The loudmouthed senator from Wisconsin is a character, as are John and Robert Kennedy, McCarthy aide and future Donald Trump mentor Roy Cohn, anti-comic-book activist Fredric Wertham, and others. Casually rich in historical reference and knowledge, Tapper delights in reminding people of strange, forgotten alliances (McCarthy employed Robert Kennedy and the senator was godfather to his child).
In a wide-ranging interview with Reason’s Nick Gillespie, Tapper talks about how his roots in alternative media such as the Washington City Paper, Salon, and the pioneering satire site Suck give him an advantage over journalists trained more conventionally in mainstream media. “I was a crime and police reporter for City Paper and [my editor, the late David Carr,] was always on my case for not being sufficiently skeptical of police. He thought I was too pro-police. He never came out and said it, but I knew that he thought that,” says Tapper. “That was good, that back and forth that I had with him, and while I think it’s important to support police when they need help and they’re doing the right thing, I also…recognize that there are times that the police need to be questioned. That’s an important part of my job. Same thing with decision makers in the military, less so individual soldiers on the ground. I think being willing to challenge American institutions while also being respectful of the people who are the beat cop or the private.”
As a special treat for Reason readers, Tapper also explains how Senior Editor Jacob Sullum gave him his start in journalism.
Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Austin Bragg. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel.
‘Deadly Roulette’ by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 3.0