Let’s be honest – we all love a juicy secret. Sure, we might say that we don’t want to dive into someone else’s scandals or take part in gossipy drama, but that isn’t really true. Keeping a scandal quiet is like holding an unlit firework – you can’t revel in the sparks unless you set it off for everyone to see. Sharing a secret might not make you the most trustworthy person in the room; but for the brief period that word spreads, it does make you the most interesting one. You have knowledge that everyone else wants. The feeling of power gives you a rush – and the more people who know, the better.
This escalation is a problem. Sharing whispers might be exciting and relatively harmless in the middle school lunchroom or over burgers at your family’s summer barbecue, where the drama is contained to a few people you know personally. But suppose you’re a White House aide with access other people can only dream of and knowledge that every reporter in the press room wants to share with millions of readers. Suddenly, that temptation is nearly irresistible; you find yourself sharing details about conversations that could derail legislation, stopper debates, and even endanger national security.
Everyone loves a scandal – which is why leakers are so problematic.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pro-media guy. I’ve spent most of my life working in conservative media, and I have and will always believe that the public has a right to know about what goes on in government. But I think there’s a difference between honest reporting and chasing a scandal that could derail work in Washington.
Take what happened to Senator John McCain earlier this month as an example. On May 10th, the Hill broke the news that Special Assistant Kelly Sadler scathingly responded to the news that McCain opposed Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA director by saying: “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Outraged, people from both political parties demanded a public apology be given and that Sadler be removed from her position. In response, Sadler allegedly called McCain’s daughter Meghan to give a personal apology – but after that, nothing.
This disgusts me. McCain is a war hero, political fighter, and an all-around great guy. Conservatives and liberals alike respect him, even if they don’t agree with his policies. Sadler’s comments are disrespectful and should have warranted a swift and immediate kick out the door. Yet, this disrespectful person wasn’t fired immediately, and is still in place, somehow still navigating the White House amidst a media firestorm.
Here’s my issue with this: it isn’t just about the insult to McCain. It’s the fact that news like this leaks all the time. I’m a diehard conservative, and I firmly believe that Trump and his team could do a lot of good for the country – but not if crap like this keeps distracting the public and politicians from important work! Sadler should have been fired on the spot, without any need for a media shakedown. I am always here for the media and whistleblowers, but sparking productive conversations and shameless leaking tidbits for the sake of a scandal or gossipy adrenaline rush are very different pursuits.
Plus, we need to be concerned with the impact the deluge of leaks is having on those working in government! As Republican strategist Alex Conant put it in an article for Politico last summer: “The common thread is that unauthorized leaks are a symptom of political organizations that have a broken culture: They lack unity, trust and self-discipline […] This is not to excuse leaks or leakers. The improper sharing of information outside an organization inevitably paralyzes it, which leads to more dysfunction and failure.” This is a self-fulfilling cycle, people! We need to break it by returning to what really matters: making the most of our Republican majority to spark necessary changes. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day drama of the 24-hour news cycle, but we need stop, as Kellyanne Conway puts it, “using the media to shiv each other.” Otherwise, what we get done in Washington?
The rush of sharing a secret isn’t worth the political fallout.