Presidential Leaks Pete Koprince Presidential Rhetoric 12-1-03
Quotes about Presidential Leaks • “Richard Nixon was an inveterate leaker.” • Jeb Stuart Magruder • “It’s always the son of a bitch who leaks.” • Richard Nixon • “Presidents may fume about unofficial leaks…all the while sanctioning mediated ‘official leaks’ orchestrated to influence policy-making and public opinion.” • Keith V. Erickson
Leaks as Rhetorical Acts • White house leaks information through press • Enable administrations to: • Test agendas • Initiate public policy • Divert public attention • Defame opponents • Manage impressions • Construct political realities • Signal foreign policy • Mislead White House enemies
Agenda Testing Leaks • Presidents rarely commit to policy without first assessing its popularity • Allow presidents to side with the majority voice by first gauging public opinion • Ford and Carter both leaked info about a proposed gasoline tax to see what the reaction would be. The public did not approve, so the tax plans never came to pass. • Reagan leaked names of cabinet members, but public disapproval prompted Reagan to call it mere “speculation” and pick new candidates.
Policy Leaks • Rhetorically influence the policy-making process • Facilitate bargaining • Reagan, 1983 – bargaining about tradeoffs in the military and social programs budgets. • Speed the legislative process • Reagan, 1985 – leaked threats to “go to the people” to speed the 1985 budget through congress.
Diversionary Leaks • Dramatic, unexpected, or compelling leaks with the intent to distract public attention • Often employed when programs or policies aren’t working or opposition voice require “muffling” • LBJ leaked news of an agreement by US and Russia to limit arms, right before Robert Kennedy gave a speech in opposition to the administration’s policies in Vietnam. • Nixon, Ford, and Carter all leaked positive fiscal stories directly prior to negative reports by the Treasury and Commerce Department.
Character Leaks (enhancement, defamation) • Image enhancing leaks: rhetorically invent, embellish, or reinforce a president’s credibility. • Kennedy leaked account of Cuban Missile Crisis to reporters who depicted him and colleagues as “great heroes”. • Defamation leaks: designed to discredit or malign an opponent’s character. • Nixon leaked information about Edward Kennedy’s relationships with many women. • Kennedy discredited a colleague who privately voice opposition to the Bay of Pigs invasion by leaking his position.
Other types of leaks • Reality construction leaks • Reagan with the Soviet Union • Diplomacy leaks • Nixon with Jordan, Reagan with Libya • Disinformation leaks • Kissinger leak about Cuba – proved false
Rhetorical benefits and risks • Benefits to leaks: • Anonymity • Seen as insider political “truth” – more resistance to public statements • Reduce risk of overexposure • Avoid risk of verbal mistakes • Risks to leaks: • “Bungled” leaks can cause many problems • Risk vengeance of those who suspect “they have been lied to, manipulated, or brokered for political advantage.” – (Erickson, 208)