speaker series
Jake Tapper speaking at Bucknell Forum
Photo: Emily Paine
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Journalist Jake Tapper joined President John Bravman for an hourlong discussion on “The State of American Democracy.”

Jake Tapper Discusses Polarization, Disinformation at Bucknell Forum

The CNN anchor was the second featured guest
by Brooke Thames
Facts and lies. Political polarization and the democratic process. The influence of the media on the mind of the voter.

These were the prevailing themes of the Nov. 30 Bucknell Forum discussion between President John Bravman and CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper, held in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts.

A staple figure at CNN, Tapper anchors a two-hour weekday program, The Lead with Jake Tapper, in addition to co-hosting CNN’s Sunday morning show, State of the Union. In April 2021, he became CNN’s lead anchor for Washington, D.C., coverage.

During the hourlong question-and- answer session on “The State of American Democracy,” the careerlong journalist shared his perspective on the prevalence of disinformation and conspiracy theories in the political landscape.

“Social media obviously plays a huge role in mainstreaming conspiracy theories. … Having a [former] American president that screams conspiracy theories has made them more accessible,” Tapper said. “But I think that they turned off a lot of the voters [in the midterm elections].”

While pollsters predicted a red wave in the 2022 midterms, the Democrats maintained a larger-than-expected number of seats in the Senate and saw single-digit losses in the House — a performance that’s been called “history defying.”

“At the end of the day, voters can surprise you, [and] that’s the great thing about America,” Tapper said. “It’s up to the voters. … It really is Pennsylvanians going to the ballot box. We [as journalists] just report the results.”

Still, a lack of public trust in the democratic process has dominated political rhetoric since the 2020 presidential election. Tapper’s perspective is straightforward: Lies can be powerful.

“I think the majority of Americans trust the electoral process. I think the majority of Republican voters don’t. … It is based on years of lies about the integrity of the [2020] election told to them,” said Tapper, who said he is politically independent. “What’s difficult in an environment like this is to say [that something is a lie] and not have people think that you are liberal. There’s nothing liberal about [saying something isn’t true].”

One countermeasure to this extreme polarization, Tapper suggested, comes back to social media and the sources from which individuals receive thoughts, opinions and news. As a “ravenous news consumer,” he recommended users diversify their feeds as much as possible.

“We are in an era where people don’t want to listen to views that they might disagree with,” Tapper said. “But [social media] is a great opportunity to hear from people with whom you might not agree [and to become] exposed to what they’re thinking about.”

The Bucknell Forum speaker series continued into spring 2023 with:

  • John Kasich, former Republican governor of Ohio, and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, who appeared together Feb. 28, in the Weis Center.
  • Barbara F. Walter ’86, a leading scholar of civil wars and the author of the New York Times bestseller How Civil Wars Start (and How to Stop Them), who spoke April 4, in Trout Auditorium.
Read more about the Kasich, Axelrod discussion and Barbara F. Walter discussion.