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Mark Joseph Headshot

Why It's Jake Tapper's Moment

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As George Stephanopoulos gives up his hosting duties on the This Week show in order to move to Good Morning America, the suits who run ABC will very soon reveal to the world either how smart or dumb they are by the man or woman they choose to helm the SS This Week.

As a political junkie I love the Sunday morning shows provided they aren't hosted by political hacks or obvious partisans which is what made watching Tim Russert a treat and David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos a painful chore. In fact, since they took over hosting duties, I can count on one hand the times I've watched an entire show of theirs.

Meet The Press will continue to slide into ratings oblivion until NBC executives realize the problem lies not with the show's format but with its host, but ABC has a chance to revitalize its show if it has the common sense to select Jake Tapper instead of the bad alternatives -- Terry Moran, Gwen Ifil and Ted Koppel (yes, he's still alive.)

It's difficult to put into words exactly why Tapper is so good in comparison to the pretenders, but I don't think it has as much to do with ideology as with that elusive but important sense of fair play that he embodies which is very much in the tradition of Russert.

There's no doubt that Tapper, like Russert, is a progressive of some sort. Russert clocked many hours in service of Democratic politicians like Mario Cuomo while Tapper was frequently a "from the left" guest on various political talk shows in the 90's and wrote for various progressive magazines. But watching Russert during his heydey one never got the sense that he was trying to advance an ideological agenda, but rather, that he was asking questions on behalf of we the public -- and was willing to go after each side fairly and equally. I get the same feeling with Tapper who has successfully transformed himself from liberal counterpart to fair-minded referee. And that's not an easy transition to make.

I don't know David Gregory's politics but I don't buy him as a fair questioner for a second and conservative groups seem especially angry with him. As for Stephanopoulos, while he seems to at least attempt to be fair, I can't shake the feeling that I'm back in the War Room and that after the show he's on a conference call with Carville and Begala plotting how next week's show can do a better job of advancing the agenda. It doesn't help matters when I turn on Oprah and hear his wife blab on about how he had told her that Obama was going to win in '08 long before election day and that they cried on inauguration day. Way too much information Ms. Wentworth.

Which brings us back to ABC's historic opportunity to turn its back on obvious partisans like Ifil and arrogant has-beens like Koppel who lacked any awareness of how his biases affected his reporting, and move into the future of American political journalism with the likes of Tapper who, despite being a person of the left (complete with a wife who worked for Planned Parenthood) is well aware of what his audience suspects of him and instead of engaging in partisan hackery, works relentlessly to be fair to both sides, remembering that his first obligation isn't to advance an ideological agenda but to inform his viewers and ask the tough questions of both sides, on their behalf.