By Walter B. Bull Jr.
Leaking confidential governmental information by an unidentified person to a sympathetic member of the news media is an increasingly useful technique to help influence public opinion.
This pathway, however, is a dangerous gamble.
And while short-term results are appealing, both leakers and the enabling free press could set the stage for an overreaction, with the result of a loss of freedom for all.
Sooner or later, an eager beaver driven by personal motives will overreach.
The information could originate within a governmental agency, embellished by a member of the press who allows his preference to impact the translation and enhanced by other reporters who “want” the information to be correct.
The variables are endless, and the impacts are unpredictable.
A journalist who has carefully cultivated his “sources” balances many options in going about his job. Sometimes public interest is low on the totem pole during the process, topped by political goals that have earned the loyalty of the writer.
Often, the work environment has general sympathy with the reporter, his editor and the management of each publication.
Without a sympathetic press, the “leak” would not make it into the public domain. (As in the case of the recent leak of a list of questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller desires to ask President Trump).
The simple fact that news stories based on leaks represent an illegal series of events means that potential overreaction includes internal regulation, criminal prosecution and a serious loss of public confidence in all public media.
Gossip is a human trait, and the public has a willing ear for the stories.
That said, freedom of the press must survive as the founders intended — a public safeguard against corruption, power aggregation, self-dealing and political ambition.
Over time, the leak culture will self-correct in the bright sunlight.