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Jake Tapper on his 1970s thriller 'All the Demons Are Here'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some of the names from the 1970s that roll by in Jake Tapper's new novel, "All The Demons Are Here," may need a little explanation - D.B. Cooper, Wayne Hays, Wilbur Mills, Anita Bryant, Son of Sam, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Willard Scott and moderate Republicans. But the author includes footnotes. Jake's new novel leads us through a story that also includes Evel Knievel, Elvis Presley, Woodward and Bernstein, U-F-ologists (ph) - ufologists? - cultists, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, and the rise of blaring sensational headlines. Jake Tapper, who also anchors "The Lead" on CNN, joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

JAKE TAPPER: It's great to be here, Scott. I listen to the show every week. It's an honor to be here, really.

SIMON: Thank you. We're honored to have you. What grips you about this period, the '70s?

TAPPER: It was just insane. It was just a wild...

SIMON: (Laughter).

TAPPER: It was just a wild time. I mean, the truth of the matter is, this is my third novel, and the first one takes place in the '50s, the second in the '60s. I was going to skip the '70s 'cause I remember them vaguely, and they seemed really lame to me. What I remember from the '70s is gas lines and malaise and Elvis dying. But I was cautioned, no, no, no, no, you're remembering them wrong 'cause you were a kid; look into them. And they were wild.

SIMON: The story revolves around a brother and sister, Ike and Lucy Marder, son and daughter of U.S. Senator Charlie Marder and Margaret Marder, a prominent zoologist. Ike is a U.S. Marine war hero, but AWOL when we meet him.

TAPPER: So 1977 is also an era where people really start to ask tough questions about the military expeditions that the Pentagon and the presidents send our young men and women into. 1977 is a period of - it's post-Watergate. It's post-Vietnam. People realizing that their government and their Pentagon have been lying to them. And Ike is caught up in continued U.S. military adventurism. This is a fictitious military operation, but it goes wrong. And it was just a time when disillusionment, I think, was a big part of the culture. And Ike is a stand-in for the rest of us in that sense, that he just - he can't believe the flippancy with which the Pentagon and politicians send, in his case, him and his platoon of Marines into danger for a nonsense adventure.

SIMON: Lucy Marder, his sister, is a reporter on the verge of a huge story. She goes to work for a rich and unscrupulous British media family?

TAPPER: I mean, you don't have to dance around it. It's very - it's loosely, but directly, based on Rupert Murdoch, who obviously hails from Australia, but...

SIMON: Yeah.

TAPPER: Yeah, I mean, some of the quotes that I give to the dad, Max Lyon, who is setting up his media empire in the United States with a tabloid in D.C., the Washington Sentinel - some of the quotes that I give to him are directly from Rupert Murdoch in biographies and documentaries that I've watched. He is an incredibly important player, love him or hate him. And there's a lot to hate. But he's an incredibly important player on the world stage and certainly in the United States. And 1977 is when the New York Post starts really getting its footing...

SIMON: Because the "Headless Body in Topless Bar"...

TAPPER: It was that era, so - and I try to get in the head of Rupert Murdoch, aka Max Lyon, by trying to explain why there was this desire and need, really, for tabloids, which was - there's a quote in the book that is directly from Murdoch, but I give it to Max Lyon, which is something like, I don't know any industry that proceeds to give the consumers what they do not want.

SIMON: Yeah.

TAPPER: And that was...

SIMON: And that was often said of Murdoch...

TAPPER: Yeah.

SIMON: ...That he had revitalized newspapers.

TAPPER: Yeah.

SIMON: He'd made them popular again.

TAPPER: But then, the problem is when you chase the headlines and you use fear and rage instead of other emotions to sell papers. And then, you end up with, you know, a few decades later, the Dominion lawsuit and $787.5 million settlement, etc.

SIMON: What traces of the '70s do you see today?

TAPPER: A lot. I mean, the - first of all, obviously, the rise of tabloid journalism, which, you know, people might call clickbait today when they're referring to the same kind of idea of you're just trying to get eyes; you're not trying to inform. It wasn't invented in 1977, but it certainly rose in 1977. And that's one of the themes of the book with what Lucy has to write. She's writing about a serial killer in D.C. The Lyon family sees what's going on with Son of Sam in New York, and they want to replicate that in D.C.

SIMON: Yeah, they want their own serial killer.

TAPPER: Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah.

TAPPER: And they have one. And then, I think a lot of the anger in politics has been with us for certainly decades, if not centuries. But the mistrust of government, I think, really took root in the '70s, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam. And I don't think it's ever let up.

SIMON: I've got to ask you one CNN question.

TAPPER: Of course.

SIMON: If Donald Trump called up CNN in the middle of your show and said, I've got something to say, I've got news to make, would you put him on?

TAPPER: Oh, that's such a tough question. I mean, I'd want to - I mean, that's a tough decision to make in the fly. I mean, I think we'd want to know, well, what is it before we put you on air? I'm very reluctant to cover a campaign event live. I just think - like, no matter who the candidate is just 'cause I don't know what value that is for viewers. But would I take a live interview from any presidential candidate who stands a chance and is a credible candidate? I mean, my knee-jerk response is, yes, with, obviously, reserving the right to cut him off.

But I do think with somebody like Donald Trump, who is - I mean, I don't think this is a opinion. I think, like, he has been proven to be reckless with his words to the degree that there has been violence committed based on things he has said, lies he has told. I think you have to think about taking him live. I'm not saying you do or you don't, but I think you have to think about it because he is so reckless with his words.

SIMON: Lucy Marder, your reporter character, becomes part of what I'll call a mistake that has consequences.

TAPPER: Yeah.

SIMON: Do we worry enough about that in journalism?

TAPPER: Do we worry about that enough? I think that we have corrected a lot since after 9/11. There was a lot of inaccurate reporting about this individual was seen doing this, that individual was seen doing that, and then after the Iraq War, when the media was not skeptical enough of the allegations and charges being made by the Bush government. I think we have corrected a lot. It's still not enough. You still see it. But I remember after the Boston Marathon bombing, there were a lot of sleuths online. And I saw very little of that ending up in mainstream media, by which I even include, you know, most newspapers, most TV shows. But there was some very irresponsible stuff, pictures of people that were not related to the Boston Marathon bombing. If I recall correctly, the New York Post might have posted a picture on its cover, right?

SIMON: Yeah, I think so.

TAPPER: ...Of two individuals that were not - they had backpacks, and they were young men, and they were not white. But they were not responsible. They had nothing to do with it. And that ended up being another lawsuit that the Murdochs had to settle. These two individuals were just innocent residents of Massachusetts. You know, so a platform and a voice is a very powerful thing, and it can be really used to do damage. And we see that all the time, exploited in - by bad actors on social media. And we in the, quote-unquote, "mainstream media" - I mean, we really have to be responsible about that sort of thing.

I think most people are, but I think there is an element that is not. And I think it lives today. I mean, what you're describing that Lucy experiences in the book is something that we do see today. When people are demonized on far-right media - or far left, I suppose, too, but it seems to be a bigger problem with the far right, right now. When people are demonized in far-right media, it has consequences.

SIMON: Jake Tapper of CNN, his new novel, "All The Demons Here" (ph). Thank you so much for being with us.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Scott. It's an honor, as always.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONICA HELDAL SONG, "CONMAN COMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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