It's the end of the leaks as we know it
© Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants DOJ wades into archdiocese fight for ads on DC buses Overnight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector MORE is finally a man with a mission. His Department of Justice recently announced a legal crusade against media leaks that, we can all agree, are hobbling the Trump administration and its agenda.

As a former journalist, I understand the role of leaks in Washington policymaking. These “appropriate leaks” serve a public good — they expose lawbreaking, corruption, and abuse of power. But the torrent of internal, confidential, and classified content coming out of this White House — or wherever — is gratuitous and bad for the country.

ADVERTISEMENT
The latest leak of call transcripts between President Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia are examples of leaks for leak’s sake. The transcripts served no public good and were handed to a reporter as logs thrown on a fire.

 

The impact is simply that is sows distrust within the West Wing and — more damaging — between our White House and other governments. The result is an emboldened Justice Department: Reporters may now be subpoenaed for their sources, and Sessions has not ruled out that some may even be prosecuted.

The crackdown on leaks comes at an unprecedented time in American history. No matter how you parse the polls, the press is less popular than a president with precariously low approvals. Support for the American media continues to plummet, languishing around near-historical lows. The mainstream media as it’s called — broadcast titans like NBC News and print stalwarts like the New York Times and Washington Post — has been leeching credibility long before President Trump.

This summer, Gallup found that American confidence in newspapers sat at just 27 percent, an increase of 7 percent from a year ago, but well below the 39 percent from its heyday of 1990. Last fall, it found that trust in mass media is at an all-time low of 32 percent, down from 55 percent in 1999.

I suspect the nosedive in media approval coincides with the adoption of the internet and social media. Unlike in 1992, voters today have access to news from a plethora of sources. We are simply bombarded with news choices today, and what is passed off as social still carries a tinge of news to it, enough so that we play Paul Revere with the things we read on our smart phones all day.

“It’s very sad that the media through their own political bias has lost so much credibility that they are now seen as partisan players and no longer an independent source for unbiased facts or truth,” said John McLaughlin, chief executive officer of McLaughlin & Associates and a Trump campaign pollster. In a national omnibus he conducted in June, a majority, at 56 percent, believed the media was biased against the president.

What’s driving that vitriol? The blatant bias on broadcast, the smugness, the self-righteousness that was on full display recently when CNN’s Jim Acosta got into a needless spat with the White House aide Stephen Miller, looking more like a Democratic operative than a journalist. Yet the Acosta example is hardly an isolated incident of media partisanship, especially with respect to CNN. The network has struggled to shake allegations of bias all summer.

For the Trump base, the mainstream media is the perfect foil, elitists beholden to the Georgetown cocktail circuit more than to rust belt values, less dedicated to breaking real news than to chasing clicks and ratings. No one is better at generating clicks and ratings than Trump, and he has spent the first six months of his presidency at war with the American press, martyring himself so that his base has an easy scapegoat.

Consider that 42 percent of the tweets he issued in July were devoted to “fake news” versus 31 percent regarding Russia and just 20 percent on the economy, and you will understand just how central media bias is to the Trump psyche.

The administration has the prerogative to pursue whatever tact is deems necessary to tourniquet the bleeding of information from its corpus. Some argue the leaks are impossible to quell as they originate from the so-called “deep state” of career professionals left behind by the Obama administration. Others, like former FBI Director James Comey, may be self-proclaimed whistleblowers.

These damning leaks will continue unabated until the first few leakers are caught, cuffed and prosecuted. Sessions has a tall task ahead. He must balance a healthy dose of the law with cherished press freedoms. Yet, these are freedoms that many Americans, who, I’d wager, prefer to consume news reported from on-the-record sources, clearly feel the press have exceeded over the past decade.

Eric Bovim is managing director of Signal Group, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. He was formerly a correspondent for Reuters in Madrid.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.