There are no surprises in the post at Axios today about why leakers from the Trump White House do their leaking. The ones who do it are trying to undermine Trump policy decisions, for the most part. That, at least, is what Jonathan Swan came away with, when he asked his favorite leakers why they leak.
Swan gives this summary of the reasons offered by his pet leakers:
Why does this White House leak like it’s going out of style? I reached out to some of the Trump administration’s most prolific leakers — people who have been wonderful sources to me (and, I assume, plenty of other reporters) — to get them to explain the draw.
“To be honest, it probably falls into a couple of categories,” one current White House official tells me. “The first is personal vendettas. And two is to make sure there’s an accurate record of what’s really going on in the White House.”
“To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” the current White House official added.
“The most common substantive leaks are the result of someone losing an internal policy debate,” a current senior administration official told me. “By leaking the decision, the loser gets one last chance to kill it with blowback from the public, Congress or even the President.”
He cites another official on what I would consider closest to the mark, as regards consistent leaking:
A former senior White House official who turned leaking into an art form made a slightly more nuanced defense of the practice. “Leaking is information warfare; it’s strategic and tactical — strategic to drive narrative, tactical to settle scores,” the source said.
Contrast this with the Obama administration, which actually leaked like a sieve — if you went by the incessant stream of anonymously sourced information from inside the administration. Leaking was information warfare meant to drive the narrative. For the Obama team, it was clearly a method of preparing the media for policy decisions, test-driving policy concepts, and making Obama look good.
Mainstream coverage of Obama was laughably different from coverage of George W. Bush: with the latter, outlets like the New York Times and CNN never let the administration speak for itself, but always surrounded its public discussions, releases, and even occasional leaks with hostile commentary.
The coverage of Obama was almost uniformly friendly by omission — and often enough by outright commission — but never so sycophantic as when recounting “leaks” from administration sources, without the slightest critical or skeptical commentary. The mainstream media didn’t take Obama White House leaks for examination. They simply regurgitated them verbatim.
The key difference was that the Obama “leakers” were leaking on behalf of the administration, to advance its agenda. It was an information campaign for them too — but not a hostile one against the sitting administration. Commentators like Jonathan Swan probably wouldn’t even say the anonymous Obama sources were leaking. But they were. That’s what a leak is: “information” given without attribution, and purportedly without authorization. The entire Obama tenure was one long, friendly leak.
Why is there more hostile leaking against the Trump administration? Because (a) there’s diversity of opinion in the Trump White House, whereas there was not in the Obama White House; and (b) Trump wants to do things the D.C. establishment will do anything to avert. Obama never did. His goals comported exactly with the expectations of the Washington establishment, including the mainstream media.
You can bet the Trump “leakers” are a certain, limited group of people, and not everyone in the White House. There’s also the point — an important one — that leaking in general has become simply a way to source the news, to a degree it was not 30 years ago, or even 20. The media have become accustomed to controlling the news by working with leakers, and leakers know that. It only looks different now because the hemorrhage of leaks during the Obama years — i.e., the method by which the Obama team wrote the news for us — was Obama-friendly, whereas the leak campaigns today are Trump-hostile.
This is why it is such a big deal that Trump tweets. He vaults past the media noise, created out of leak campaigns, to speak directly to the people. His rallies, at which he has the opportunity to speak uncensored, serve a similar purpose.
I never imagined the day would come when I would be glad that the president tweets regularly. But since the mainstream media’s record of giving us insight into the Trump White House is abysmal, Trump’s own tweets are invaluable. If you want to know what Trump intends, or is going to do, don’t listen to the leakers, and definitely don’t listen to CNN or MSNBC. Listen to Trump. Then decide for yourself what you think.