USA Today tries (and fails) to turn Jake Tapper into George Stephanopoulos

In a sign of just how toxic the Clinton Global Initiative has become for any media figure in the wake of the George Stephanopoulos scandal, USA Today has been combing the activities of the group for new potential targets. This week they seemed to think they’d found one when CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s name showed up as a “speaker” at an event slated for next month in Denver. Once this was pointed out to the CGI organizers, the announcement quickly disappeared from their website and the newspaper was quick to pounce.

Yet another high-profile TV newsman may find himself embroiled in controversy over his connections to the Clinton Foundation.

Until late Tuesday afternoon, the Clinton Foundation website listed CNN anchor Jake Tapper as a “speaker” at a Clinton Global Initiative event scheduled for June 8-10 in Denver. After USA TODAY asked CNN about the event, Tapper’s name was swiftly removed from the Clinton Foundation website.

The article quickly leaps to compare the announcement to Stephanopoulos, hinting that Tapper too could face criticism for an overly cozy relationship with the Clintons. But you need to read a few paragraphs down, well past all the ominous commentary, before learning that Tapper’s appearance there is entirely different than the Generous George story.

First, (as they finally admit) Tapper has no history of giving the Clinton’s any money. Also, he’s not a “speaker” at the event, nor an “honored guest” or anything else of the type. Nor is this some private, on the sly activity which Jake is taking on in his private time like Stephanopoulos. He’s there working for CNN, getting interviews and televising his coverage for his network. And the Clintons aren’t paying him either.

A CNN spokesperson, who asked not to be named, said Tapper was improperly listed as a speaker on the foundation website; he is scheduled to interview former president Clinton at the event and later moderate a panel discussion. The spokesperson said the network-approved interview will be televised. There will be no restrictions on the questions, and Tapper will not be paid by the foundation. Other details are still being negotiated.

The article continues to toss darts at the wall, mentioning that Tapper worked for some more liberal outlets earlier in his career as well as a brief stint working for a Democrat politician as a young man. (We actually covered those exact questions during our Politinerds interview with Tapper earlier this year and there’s not much of interest.) But in the end, there’s simply not much of a there, there.

It’s easy to understand why CGI would want to have Tapper’s name associated with one of their events, no matter the capacity. It lends more credibility and gravitas to the proceedings and no doubt burnishes their reputation. But they did Jake no favors by improperly listing him as a “speaker” on the event website without permission. The real culprits here, though, are the writers at USA Today who tried to gin this up into another scandal to score some fast headlines. Anyone who watches Jake’s coverage on a regular basis has seen him tear into the Clintons (both the foundation and Hillary’s campaign) with the same fervor he shows for Republicans who go astray. This was a pretty cheap shot.

With that said, though, I do have to wonder if this is a gig which Tapper should have agreed to. Of course, we don’t yet know how long this has been in the works. He may have agreed to cover the event long before the Stephanopoulos story broke, but in light of all that’s happened it opens him up to these sorts of questions from other news outlets hunting for a story. Hopefully CNN can find a way to provide additional clarification, or perhaps just scrap the whole gig. I mean, how much are we going to learn from yet another Bill Clinton interview at this point anyway?