Fair arbiter? CNN’s Jake Tapper trashed Trump for years, now he’s moderating presidential debate

While the network has long been regarded as left-leaning, Tapper’s particular history of covering Trump has been notably critical. Can he put his bias aside to manage a fair debate?

Published: May 16, 2024 11:03pm

Updated: May 17, 2024 12:04am

CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate the first presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

The role is typically meant to be that of a neutral custodian of the conversation between the participants, though Tapper’s long history of harshly criticizing Trump while on the air raises questions about his ability to remain even-handed.

Trump and Biden agreed to participate in two debates yesterday through a series of social media posts. The CNN debate is scheduled for June 27, while ABC News will hold a second debate on Sept. 10.

“Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020,” Biden posted on Wednesday. “Since then, he hasn’t shown up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal.”

“Anywhere. Anytime. Any place. Let's see if Joe can make it to the stand-up podium,” was Trump’s response.

The CNN debate will take place in Atlanta, Ga., and will not include a live audience. While the network has long been regarded as generally left-leaning, Tapper’s particular history of covering Trump has been notably critical.

Tapper censors footage of pro-Trump crowd in Miami

After Trump entered a not guilty plea in special counsel Jack Smith’s classified documents case last June, the former president visited a Cuban restaurant where he greeted an enthusiastic crowd

CNN initially showed the footage of Trump, though Tapper told staff in the control room not to continue showing it. “The folks in the control room: I don’t need to see any more of that. He’s trying to turn this into a spectacle, into a campaign ad. That’s enough of that. We’ve seen it already,” Tapper said while on the air.

The remarks drew direct rebuke from Trump, who suggested he had cut the footage to avoid highlighting the support for the former president.

“Fake Tapper just demanded that his broadcast be closed down from Miami because there was far too much enthusiasm on the streets for ‘Trump.’ The good news is, he was the only one to do so, perhaps a good explanation as to why CNN’s ratings are so low!” Trump posted in June 2023.

MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace also asked to keep the footage from the public at the time.

Tapper tirade over Trump’s “Gaetz-McBreitbart nonsense”

In late October of 2020, Tapper went on a lengthy diatribe linking Trump to an array of conservative media outlets and politicians, suggesting he had run a superlatively negative campaign.

“The Gaetz-McBreitbart nonsense that Trump spews, like these little code words that make [Sean] Hannity’s pins shine at specific moments when he utters them,” Tapper said, in apparent reference to conservative news outlet Breitbart and Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz. Tapper then editorialized, saying “He is running the single most negative, sleazy campaign in American history for a major party candidate."

“The campaign that Trump and his allies in the media and members of his family and Trump-allied websites and such are leveling with charges so heinous I’m not even going to say them,” he went on. “Just nonsense, crap tied into QAnon, tied into Pizzagate, tied into the worst things you could say about a person. It’s so disgusting and so beneath what this election should be.”

Tapper mocked Trump over own COVID-19 diagnosis

Earlier that month, Trump checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center following his diagnosis with COVID-19. 

"Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the President will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days," the White House said at the time.

Tapper, who had long criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, signaled that Trump’s disregard for pandemic guidelines had resulted in the diagnosis and that both Trump and his staffers had potentially spread the disease to many others.

"Make no mistake, this was not just reckless behavior, this was a demonstration of a wanton disregard for human life. President Trump, now in quarantine, has become a symbol of his own failures," Tapper editorialized in October 2020.

"Trump was right" about Hunter Biden

Not all of Tapper’s coverage of Trump has been blindly critical. In August of last year, Tapper conceded in a roundtable on “The Lead” that the former president had been right to claim that Hunter Biden had received money from China during the 2020 debates.

"Trump was right. I mean, he did make a fortune from China, and Joe Biden was wrong," Tapper said. "I don't know that he was lying about it. He might not have been told by Hunter. But this blind spot is a problem."

During the exchange, Tapper highlighted a fact-check from the Washington Post that pointed to Hunter Biden’s own admission of receiving funds from China.

“This directly goes against what Joe Biden said in the debate in 2020 with Donald Trump,” he said, before rolling the clip.

Neither CNN nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment as of press time.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X.

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