Washington is in a tizzy because somebody “leaked” information to the media about U.S. military actions in the Mideast that Republicans claim was purposely released by the White House to make President Obama look strong and decisive in an election year. It’s almost amusing to watch the Republicans bray about the matter, as if the idea that anyone in the White House would be interested in making the president look good is akin to treason.
One of the stories, leaked to the New York Times, was about how the U.S. was using cyberattacks to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. The other was about how the administration was picking targets for anti-terrorist drone strikes.
Apparently, to the Republican way of thinking, only information that makes Obama look bad is allowed to be leaked to the press.
Here is a small sampling of the Republican reaction, this one from Sen. John McCain, one of Obama’s chief critics since he lost the 2008 election:
“They’re intentionally leaking information to enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy for the elections,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “That is unconscionable.”
Obama promised that the leaks would be investigated and said he was offended by the suggestion that the leaks were done on purpose.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong,” Obama said at a Friday news conference Friday. “And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office. We’re dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families or our military personnel or our allies, and so we don’t play with that.”
Attorney General Eric Holder even appointed two U.S. Attorneys to look separately into the leaks, saying that disclosing classified information “will not be tolerated.”
I’m betting that these are two “investigations” that will fizzle away over time, discarded and forgotten by the time the political conventions swing into high gear in the middle of the summer. We can’t know whether high-ranking officials in the White House got together and directed someone to leak the information, but if they did, it wouldn’t be at all surprising and is, indeed, one of the oldest media games in town. At every level of government, from the local City Council to the West Wing, policymakers for years have used reporters and leaks as a way of feeding information to the public without having their motives questioned and the details scrutinized. As a former reporter who has covered mayors, governors and U.S. senators, I have even been used on many occasions as the conduit of the leaks. I always knew exactly what was going on—and was always giddy to get the exclusive story. Politicians and policymakers know that when the info comes out as leaks, it appears more credible and salacious than if it came by way of press release or news conference.
This is a White House that has been extremely disciplined about releasing information on its own schedule, in its own way. It has not been the sieve that we have seen with the Bush and Clinton White Houses. So the idea that stuff would be “leaked” without high-level involvement is somewhat dubious.
The Republicans are screaming because they are once again being outmaneuvered at a game they invented.