Jake Tapper at Daniel Pearl Lecture: Press Must Stand as ‘Lighthouse in a Fog’

February 4, 2021
Jake Tapper, of CNN’s State of the Union, speaks to a crowd at the Harvard Institute of Politics Forum on December 1, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

In this era of conspiracy rumors and lies in high places “the journalist must stand as the lighthouse in a fog,” declared Jake Tapper, one of the country’s most influential reporters as chief of the CNN Washington bureau.

Tapper returned to the theme of journalistic integrity frequently as he delivered the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture  — not, as customary, before a live and involved audience at UCLA but via Zoom to more than a thousand listeners nationwide.

“The journalist must not be valueless,” Tapper continued. “He must stand up for honesty. That’s what Danny Pearl stood for.”

“The journalist must not be valueless. He must stand up for honesty. That’s what Danny Pearl stood for.”

Pearl, the Southeast Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was tracking a story on terrorism in 2002 when he was abducted and then beheaded by Islamic extremists in Pakistan.

The case is currently again in the news as the Pakistani Supreme Court has ruled that Pearl’s killer, Omar Sheikh, be released from jail.

Tapper denounced the release as “an outrage and affront to everyone” and expressed the hope that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the U.S. government will intervene in the case.

The role of the journalist during the past four years of the Donald Trump presidency was particularly challenging and it’s not yet over, declared Tapper, a graduate of the Akiba Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia and Dartmouth College.

“I doubt whether Trump will be impeached and I believe he will return and will be heard from in the future,” Tapper predicted. “He likes the limelight.” The bigger point, he added, “is whether the media will give him a platform.”

On that point, Tapper asked of himself whether he would interview Trump and answered in the affirmative.

“I would do it, but I wouldn’t let him get away with his lies,” Tapper affirmed, but “just because Trump said it, doesn’t make it wrong.”

Tapper granted that his own profession had its shortcomings and he did not exempt himself from the criticism.

“Looking back, I am disappointed in myself,” he said, pointing particularly to not paying enough attention to Trump’s ban on citizens from certain Muslim countries from entering he United States and to “lies” about a caravan of Central American refugees threatening American borders.

Citing Daniel Pearl’s example, Tapper noted that when the slain reporter was working on a story, “he always wanted to make one more call to get one more viewpoint.”

In Pearl’s honor, Tapper concluded, “Let us recognize the toxin in our body politic. That is not easy, but let us pledge that we will try.”

In contrast, he said, are the “toxic lies” and ”false flag statements” such as that California’s wild fires were caused by “Jewish laser beams” from outer space, Holocaust denials, lies about Israel and that the Presidential election was “stolen.”

Tapper was introduced by UCLA Prof. Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father and one of the world’s leading computer scientists. Together with his wife Ruth and their two daughters, he founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Its purpose is to channel the legacy of their son into a global organization to perpetuate Daniel’s ideals of free journalism, love of music and dialogue between East and West.

Prof. Kal Raustiala, director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, which co-sponsored the event with campus Hillel, served as moderator.

The Daniel Pearl lecture is now in its 19th year. To perpetuate it in the future, support is welcomed by joining the Daniel Pearl Symbol of Hope Society of funders. For information, contact Alexandra Lieben at alieben@international.ucla.edu.

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