One of the most famous leaks of government information was from a source called "deep throat." The story of the resultingall the president's men Watergate Scandal is documented in the Academy Award-winning film, All the President's Men. The Washington Post reporters involved faced personal threats in their effort to bring to light the illegal activities of President Richard Nixon.

Lessons From Leaks

Consider these leaks:

  •  An embarrassing leak of information about a celebrity complete with a photo or video.

  • A government leak of supposedly secret information and in response a full investigation is promised.

But many of these leaks are carefully planned.

A celebrity who has faded from the public's view may plant a "juicy," embarrassing story, photo, or video just to get their name before the public again. The story may first appear in a tabloid and later be picked up by the mainstream press, or the video may be posted on a popular social network.

As one celebrity put it, "I don't care what they say as long as they keep talking about me." This ploy often pays off at the box office or in terms of record sales.

Even the super-secret CIA leaks information when it serves their interests.

Although many reporters know they are being used in reporting these leaks, at the same time it's difficult to pass up a major story.

 The problem arises when the information is illegal to disclose or can even be interpreted as treason.valerie plame

A recent story involved the "outing" of CIA agent, Valerie Plame.

The law defined her outing as "treason," punishable by a long imprisonment or even death. 

But the leak was designed to attack the reputation of Valerie Plame's husband who had been critical of the Bush Administration's justification of the Iraq war.

After an impartial investigation, a noted person in the Republican Administration was found guilty of crimes related to the outing and sentenced to 30 months in prison. But before he went to prison President Bush granted him a Pardon.

Another example involved the secret Pentagon Papers. This time a judge threw out the case during the trial when it was revealed that the government had used clearly illegal means in it's attempt to gather evidence.

In the case of the Watergate Scandal mentioned earlier, the identity of "deep throat" was kept secret by the reporters involved for decades after President Nixon resigned the presidency.

Finally, the source of the leak publically revealed his own identity.

 However, such secrecy might not be possibly today because judges can threaten reporters with jail time for not revealing their sources.

There are several morals to all of this. First and foremost, to keep from being "used" -- especially illegally used -- reporters should be wary of information they receive, including the possible motivations for "leaks." 

Addendum: In 2011 a trove of classified information was published on-line by WikiLeaks. According to Wikipedia, Wikileaks is "an international self-described not-for-profit organization that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers."

WikiLeaks has released documents that have subsequently become front-page news.

Although serious charges have been brought as a result of these leaks, as of this writing the case against Wikileaks case has not been resolved.

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