A Defense of Jake Tapper, When None is Actually Needed

Jan. 11, 2014 


Last night, the website Mediaite posted an excerpt of an interview between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg and the film’s inspiration Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. If you aren’t familiar with the film, or the tragic story that it’s based on, Luttrell and nineteen other Navy SEALS were ambushed by Taliban fighters during a mission in Afghanistan. A long gunfight ensued, leaving Luttrell the only the survivor. He later received our nation’s second highest military for valor, the Navy Cross.

Mediaite titled their piece “‘They Died for Nothing?’: Jake Tapper’s Interview with Lone Survivor Vet Gets Tense.” The author of the post Noah Rothman, summarized the interview as follows:

Tapper’s interview … became tense on Friday when the veteran of Operation Red Wings apparently took offense at Tapper’s suggestion that the botched mission was a mistake. Luttrell defended his fellow veterans who lost their lives in that operation and asked if Tapper was suggestion that they died, “for nothing.”

Almost instantly, Tapper received backlash via Twitter from those upset. Many latched onto the CNN anchor’s use of the word “senseless,” angered at the suggestion that the Navy SEALs, “died for nothing.” What immediately ensued was harsh tweet after tweet from those who felt Tapper’s questions were insensitive, not just to Luttrell, but to all members of service.


The flames of anger were stoked when Oliver Darcy, the weekend editor of Glenn Beck’s site The Blaze, wrote a piece summarizing the interview in such a way as to claim that Tapper’s assertion is that the SEALS did in fact, “die for nothing.” Tapper took offense to Darcy’s reporting via Twitter:

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Glenn Beck himself weighed in on the matter, fueling the fire even more by characterizing Tapper’s questioning as, “taking on,” Luttrell, and gleefully writing, “I don’t recommend doing that again. Really.”

I make it a daily habit to watch CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper. While CNN doesn’t have the best reputation for fairness and accuracy, Tapper is a solid reporter who has earned my trust. I watched his interview with Luttrell, and I walked away feeling that nothing in their exchange suggested that Tapper was being insensitive to Luttrell’s service or his team’s sacrifice:

TAPPER (voice-over): It’s clear for Marcus Luttrell the battle, almost a decade ago, still cuts close to the bone today.

(on camera): One of the emotions I felt while watching the film is, first of all, just the hopelessness of the situation, how horrific it was and also just all that loss of life of these brave American men. And I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don’t want any more senseless American death and at the same time I know that there are dead people there and good people who need help. Was that intentional?

LUTTRELL: Well, I don’t know what part of the film you were watching, but hopelessness really ever came into it. Where did you see that? We never felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like we were losing unless we were actually dead. That never came across in the battle and while we were fighting on the mountain and it was just us against them.

TAPPER: Hopelessness, just the sense of all these wonderful people who died. It seemed senseless. I don’t mean to disrespect in any way but it seemed senseless, all of these wonderful people who were killed for an op that went wrong.

LUTTRELL: We spend our whole lives defending this country so you tell me because we were over there doing what we were told to do was senseless and they died for nothing?

TAPPER: No, I’m not saying that at all.

LUTTRELL: That’s what you said. So, let me just say that, yes, it went bad for us over there but that was our job. That’s what we did. We didn’t complain about it. We went out there and did what we did best and at the end, we weren’t standing. They were. We were lucky. I was lucky. And the rest of the guys, we fought as hard as we possibly could. Never felt sorry for ourselves while we were out there. This was a job we were going after a high value target and, you know, it got switched on us.

TAPPER: Maybe it’s just the difference between what a civilian feels when he watches this versus what a soldier does.

LUTTRELL: Absolutely.

As you can read, Tapper did not directly suggest that the Navy SEALS, “died for nothing.” Rather, Tapper was being honest about the emotion he felt while viewing Lone Survivor, and trying to relate it to the overall war in Afghanistan.

For those who have grossly mischaracterized Tapper as not fully understanding military members lives and service, they must not be familiar with the reporter’s extensive background covering our nation’s wars, active military personnel, and veterans. I can’t think of another reporter or anchor who has single handedly covered the wars as intensely as Tapper, or who has dedicated his free time to personally discussing the topic. Tapper has done a terrific job telling the personal stories of our servicemen and women through his books like The Outpost, not to mention the work he does fundraising on behalf of veterans.

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I only met Tapper a couple of times during my tenure in Congress, so I can’t say that I know the man personally; however, I am confident that Tapper undoubtedly understands the adversity  faced by military men and women on the battlefield, and the difficulties they must overcome upon returning home. I admire both Tapper and Luttrell — one for his bravery, the other for his unquestionable, unyielding empathy.

One response to “A Defense of Jake Tapper, When None is Actually Needed”

  1. Hamilton says:

    I haven’t read the story in great detail, but it seems to me that if there was any insinuation that the SEALS died for nothing, it might have been Tapper thinking that the strategy to be there at that time in that place, was flawed from a tactical perspective.

    I would hope that he wasn’t criticizing the mission goals.

    But what I find offensive is that no one criticizes Hollywood for making millions off factual U.S. military tragedies. Is anyone going to tell me that everyone involved in Lone Survivor made no money? Did all the money go to the SEALS’ families? I doubt it. And no one criticizes Hollywood for rabidly wanting to disarm Americans while they persistently exploit guns and gun ownership to make millions upon millions in the film industry.

    Frigging hypocrites.