Early coverage of the Trump administration has been defined by seemingly panoptical accounts from within the White House, together composing a bizarre but credible portrayal of an executive branch as it has taken shape, spasmed and questioned the limits of its power. Its walls appear to be totally perforated. But these are small leaks — in many cases, anonymous quotes. A government in the midst of a shocking ideological transition is bound to spring bigger ones.
The dangers presented by leaks are clearly not lost on the Trump administration, but neither are the opportunities. The White House will be beset by leaks; it can also be expected to use them, to adopt their powerful language and to exploit the particular hazards — ethical, operational and legal — that they present to a press going through rapid structural change. Experienced as the exception, leaks promise a rare glimpse of unfiltered, unauthorized truth. As the rule, uncertainty will prevail. Politics documented by leaks and politics enacted through leaks are two very different things — and from the outside, the second is indistinguishable from the first.
A romantic notion of the leak imagines that it operates according to something like a law of physics, allowing secrets to flow from where they’ve become too abundant, and powerful, to where they’ve become too scarce. But in reality, anyone can call anything a leak, and we should expect that they will.
John Herrman, “Full Disclosure”, The New York Times Magazine (12 February 2017), 13.