Jake Tapper Survives “Real Time With Bill Maher”

Mainstream journalists must balance analysis and punditry in order to keep their jobs

Considering what happened with Juan Williams and NPR last week, it took guts for ABC’s  Jake Tapper — who graduated from Merion’s Akiba Hebrew Academy in 1987 — to appear Friday on Real Time With Bill Maher, where opinions fly fast and furious.

Opinions can be minefields for mainstream journalists. Williams’ was set off by his comments about Muslims, spoken on The O’Reilly Factor. It got him a pink slip from NPR — and a fat contract from Fox News.

Tapper, a cool customer, played the B-card and escaped unscathed from Maher’s HBO circus.

“I can be fairly boring,” says Tapper, 41, ABC’s senior White House correspondent and former interim anchor of This Week. “I think I was probably the fifth-most interesting person on that stage.”

And that’s saying something when one of the five people onstage was Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin’s dopey almost son-in-law. Tapper concedes that Johnston’s presence on the roundtable was “very bizarre.”

Tapper’s understated performance most likely won’t earn him a return ticket, but at least he’s still employed.

“I’m generally not one to offer my opinions,” he says. “I do straight reporting and maybe some analysis. When you’re on a show that traffics in opinion, it’s always a balancing act to not cross the line between analysis and punditry.”

“I think I got through it without saying something that would get me fired. People mess up. They say things when their guard is down. That’s what perilous about the media these days. It can be unforgiving.”

When Tapper’s on the air, he insists he’s “agnostic” on virtually all issues. With two big exceptions: Ryan Howard and Jersey Shore.

Like all Philly fans, Tapper was burning over Howard’s lack of swing in the team’s loss to overmatched San Francisco in the National League championship series.

“I wish he had swung,” he says. “Howard does have a tendency to disappoint. You always go down swinging.”

Jersey Shore is Tapper’s guilty pleasure. His theory is that each character represents one of the Seven Deadly Sins: The Situation is vanity; Jwoww is wrath; Snooki is sloth.

Last time we checked, boredom hadn’t made the cut, but that doesn’t matter. Tapper can wait.