Ben Sherwood has just made the biggest mistake he’ll ever make as President of ABC News; he let Jake Tapper go to CNN. Losing Tapper doesn’t immediately hurt ABC as much as it does in the long term and Sherwood’s short term calculation will come back hard to hit ABC eventually.
Politico’s Dylan Byers sums up the Tapper/This Week fiasco nicely with some anonymous quoting…
“Jake had his eye on the chair, and he got tired of waiting,” a source familiar with the situation told POLITICO. “I think it became clear to him he wasn’t going to get it.”
The conventional wisdom is Tapper would have never considered CNN as an option had he been given This Week. But after getting passed over twice; first by the square peg/round hole Christianne Amanpour hiring and then again when George Stephanopolous replaced Amanpour and wouldn’t be dislodged, the writing was on the wall for Tapper. For whatever inexcusable miscalculation, Sherwood and ABC couldn’t see him in the chair full time.
It will very likely prove to be an irreplaceable loss. With Tapper, ABC had a talent with the take no prisoners tenacity of Sam Donaldson melded with the Washington D.C. street smarts of Tim Russert. You can’t put a price tag on those kind of traits. They are just too rare to value. With Tapper at This Week, ABC wouldn’t be faced with what NBC was faced with when it named the still not well accepted by everyone for Sundays David Gregory to take over Meet The Press. Gregory has had to grow into his role and build the gravitas he did not come into the job with. It’s still a work in progress. Tapper, like Russert, would have been a natural with gravitas galore. You can bet your ass there are a few Champagne corks popping over at 30 Rock…
And yet Sherwood couldn’t see it. Faced with choosing between lesser known but with a ton of upside Tapper and the well known, well liked, and rock steady but peaked Stephanopolous, Sherwood made the short term safe choice.
ABC will pay for Sherwood’s poorly thought out decision. Not now. But, in a few years when Diane Sawyer steps down from World News and Stepanopolous succeeds her, as everyone in the industry expects him to, ABC will be faced with a power and credibility vacuum at This Week it now has no one capable of filling.