Viewers ripped CNN over its promotion of Jake Tapper to its coveted 9 p.m. slot — with some claiming a recent shift in the anchor’s left-leaning reporting to more centrist and conservative-friendly takes amounts to “pandering” and “kissing up” to his new bosses.
Tapper’s star is rising as CNN’s new boss Chris Licht has been cleaning house and pushing a more middle-of-the-road approach, moving away from punditry that focused on criticizing the Trump administration and conservatives to boost ratings.
“Tapper is trying to survive,” said a media source. “He’s kowtowing to his bosses.”
“He’s very ambitious” and “very hard-working” with a “healthy ego,” added another source who had once worked with the anchor.
During President Donald Trump’s tenure, Tapper had emerged as a liberal bulldog, attacking the right over fake news on his shows “The Lead with Jake Tapper” and “State of the Union.” In 2018, the New York Times called him a “staunch defender of facts in the Trump era.”
His tussles with former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway were even parodied on “Saturday Night Live,” as the anchor defended CNN from being called “fake news” by Trump.
But under Licht, the anchor has recently made some uncharacteristic overtures to the right, including suggesting that President Biden invite Trump to join the American delegation to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London.
In May, Tapper raised eyebrows when he cut off a White House adviser who blamed high gasoline prices on Vladimir Putin. And last month, he shared an article on Twitter written by Salena Zito, a conservative columnist for the New York Post and the Washington Examiner, about the race for the US Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
“Jake drank the kool-aid,” one of his liberal viewers wrote on Twitter.
“This isn’t journalism; this is pandering to the new boss,” another wrote. “I assumed you were one of the good ones.”
Tapper also retweeted Ivanka Trump’s endorsement of “Breaking History” penned by her husband, Jared Kushner. The book was eviscerated by the Times and other reviewers, and the tweet caused some outlets to wonder if Tapper’s account had been hacked.
After CNN announced Thursday that Tapper will host a one-hour show at 9 p.m. beginning Oct. 10 and through the midterm elections in early November, naysayers chimed in, calling out Tapper for pandering to his boss’s agenda.
“Getting promoted for kissing up to the new right wing/Trumper overlords eh Jake?” one user tweeted.
“Don’t watch Jake Tapper on CNN. Just don’t. He’s taking the lead with Chris Licht as reputation defenders of Trump and MAGA,” echoed another.
A CNN spokesperson said, “Jake was not ‘promoted.’ He agreed to anchor the 9p-hour for one month as part of a special programming schedule. He has always been an aggressive reporter and a tough but fair interviewer who calls out nonsense and lies, regardless of their source. He has not been asked to change nor would he. Anyone who actually watches CNN knows that.”
Tapper didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
If Tapper turns in strong ratings, it’s likely he will permanently grab the slot, which had been held by disgraced anchor Chris Cuomo. Cuomo was canned from CNN last year by then-boss Jeff Zucker after it came to light that he secretly aided the defense of his embattled older brother, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Zucker resigned shortly thereafter for not disclosing a romantic relationship with CNN communications exec Allison Gollust.
At the time, a CNN insider told The Post that Tapper had been angling for Cuomo’s anchor chair, but the slot was left vacant for nearly a year as new management at the network’s corporate parent Warner Bros. Discovery set the nonpartisan agenda and ushered in Licht.
Since taking the helm, Licht has ousted left-leaning journalists like Brian Stelter, John Harwood and Jeffrey Toobin. Recently he shook up the morning show, adding outspoken primetime anchor Don Lemon along with Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow. They replaced current morning show hosts John Berman and Brianna Keiler.
Licht, however, hasn’t made any big hires since he arrived in May. Insiders wondered if he was unable to take any big swings as Warner Bros. Discovery is in cutting mode as it tries to make good on its promise to investors to find at least $3 billion in savings by 2023.
On Thursday, Licht set the rest of its primetime lineup for the elections, saying it will also move anchor Alisyn Camerota and legal analyst Laura Coates into the 10 p.m.-midnight span that was once hosted by Lemon.
Berman and Keilar will take Tapper’s spot as host of “The Lead” from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. while veteran political anchor Wolf Blitzer will remain as host of “The Situation Room” from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Erin Burnett will continue to helm the 7 p.m. hour while Anderson Cooper is staying put as host of “AC360” beginning at 8 p.m.
“CNN is moving deck chairs around on Titanic,” said a media insider, who noted that the moves “won’t help CNN out of its ratings slump.”