In politics, the word “leak” conjures whistle-blowing and heroism or villainy and subterfuge, depending on whom you ask and his position relative to the breach. In either case, a leak promises new information, unadulterated and straight from the source. It packs a significant narrative payload: Someone wanted something hidden, but someone else wanted it out, and now it’s here.
A political culture defined by mutual disbelief grinds discourse to a halt. It casts all declarations of truth as mere invitations for denial. Presentations of evidence summon “alternative facts.” Reasonable policies begin to resemble nefarious schemes. The use of any authoritative language becomes an incriminating act itself. Now any claim can be rendered inert with a simple question: Says who? Here, leaks have tremendous rhetorical value, and they offer a uniquely persuasive answer: someone who didn’t mean to say anything at all.
By virtue of their unvarnished nature, leaks have evolved into the realest of facts. This epistemological status has been fortified in recent years with a series of spectacular leaks that successfully reframed official narratives as grand fictions.
John Herrman, “Full Disclosure”, The New York Times Magazine (12 February 2017), 11-12.