There’s a famous story Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likes to tell on how he prevented the team’s draft pick of Dennis Smith Jr. last month from leaking to the press. Cuban told reporters he threatened to fire any Mavs staffer who talked to the press about the team’s plans on draft night. An unidentified staffer confirmed to The Dallas Morning News of the threat.
“Mark said, ‘OK, we’re going to give [[ Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports’ “The Vertical,” now with ESPN ]] a pump fake,’ ” the staffer said. “Then he said, ‘No one touches their phones or they’re fired.’ Coming from The Boss, you take it seriously.”
It appears new White House communications director Anthony Scarmucci is going to attempt the exact same thing. He told Fox News Sunday drastic times call for drastic actions.
“We have to get the leaks stopped,” Scaramucci, named Friday to the post, told “Fox News Sunday.” “What’s going on right now is a high level of unprofessionalism, and it’s not helping the president. … I will take drastic action to stop the leaks.”..
Scaramucci on Sunday said he would “pare down the staff” to stop White House leaks, but made clear that such efforts will be limited to the communication office…
He also went on CBS’ Face the Nation and called leaks “unprofessional.”
[ Trump ] just doesn’t like the fact that he has a two-minute conversation in the Oval Office or in his study and that people are running out and leaking that.
So we’re going to work on culturally changing that because it’s extremely unprofessional. He’s the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States. People that are standing around him that are doing that sort of nonsense are actually un-American. They’re doing an injustice to the institution of the American presidency. And we’re going to work very hard to change the culture of that.
It’s completely understandable why Scaramucci and President Donald Trump are angry about leaks. Leaks can be extremely frustrating, especially when an administration wants to control the message and keep things under wraps. One thing Trump and company will have to learn is that leaks are going to happen, regardless of whether Scaramucci tells everyone in the communications office to hand over their cell phones before every meeting. The government is a humongous organization full of people who have their own agendas and moral codes, unlike Cuban’s Mavs whose draft room had 20 to 30 people inside. Scaramucci and Trump won’t be able to control leaks because not everyone is going to agree with the policies their bosses decide on. Leaks are also going to happen in government, because reporters are constantly trying to hunt down a story. It’s going to happen whether you’re in Washington, DC; Washington State; or Tatnall County, Georgia.
People need to know what’s going on in their government, and the media (both mainstream and non-mainstream) is the best way to get said information out. It doesn’t matter whether the information puts egg on the face of the administration or makes the administration look good. The people need to, and deserve to know what their government is doing.
There is obviously a danger to reporters relying on sources to report news. CNN had to retract a story on Russia because it turned out to not be true, and the source was either wrong or just lying, plus three people resigned. This shows the danger of relying on just one source for information on a story. Some sources aren’t also altruistic in releasing the information, but do it because they’re on the outs with an administration (or company). Other sources are actually the heads of a department, who are either releasing the information in a quasi-passive aggressive way to get another country to change a planned action or slip out information as a “trial balloon” to see how it goes over with the public.
It’s important to remember how the Obama Administration reacted to leaks. Kirsten Powers famously said the only way people actually learned what the administration was doing was through leaks. But the Obama Administration was also famous for prosecuting people who decided to leak information. The administration tried to prosecute Fox News’ James Rosen for his reporting at the State Department on North Korea, while also tapping the Associated Press’ phones, emails, etc. at State Department.
Investigative reporter James Risen wrote in The New York Times how far the Obama Administration took things.
The Obama administration quickly ratcheted up the pressure, and made combating leaks a top priority for federal law enforcement. Large-scale leaks, by Chelsea Manning and later by Edward J. Snowden, prompted the administration to adopt a zealous, prosecutorial approach toward all leaking. Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, recalls that, during a private 2011 meeting intended to air differences between media representatives and administration officials, “You got the impression from the tone of the government officials that they wanted to take a zero-tolerance approach to leaks.”
The Justice Department, facing mounting criticism from media organizations, has issued new guidelines setting restrictions on when the government could subpoena reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources. But those guidelines include a loophole allowing the Justice Department to continue to aggressively pursue investigations into news reports on national security, which covers most leak investigations. In addition, the guidelines aren’t codified in law and can be changed by the next attorney general.
The good news is Trump is only promising to fire leakers, although ex-FBI Director James Comey did suggest Trump wanted to prosecute journalists who reported classified information. It would be nice if an adviser or two told Trump how chilling of an effect jailing reporters would have on the notion of press freedom in the nation. It would not only hearken back to the previous administration, something Trump seems wont to do, but would also put him into the same category of John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Acts. He should avoid this avenue, despite what his supporters and/or instincts may want.