Live by the leak, die by the leak. When WikiLeaks was releasing a steady stream of embarrassing emails hacked from Democratic officials during the presidential campaign, Hillary Cli nton and her supporters cried foul, and urged the press not to report their contents. Donald Trump applauded every new revelation, saying the leaks provided voters with important information, and gleefully invited the Russians to find and publish emails she had deleted. “Boy, that WikiLeaks has done a job on her, hasn’t it?” Trump exulted. Now that it’s Trump who is being tortured by leaks, he’s complaining they’re illegal and “un-American.” Democrats, meanwhile, are welcoming the torrent like a rainstorm after a long drought. (See Main Stories.) When it comes to leaks, everyone is a hypocrite. “Good” leaks are ones that damage our opponents. “Bad” leaks are those that hurt Our Side.
But let’s set partisanship aside for a moment. Is it always in the public interest for government officials to leak, and for the media to publish leaked material? Crusading journalist Glenn Greenwald—who angered the Obama administration by publishing Edward Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA documents—argues in TheIntercept.com this week that all leaks exposing “wrong doing” are good ones, regardless of the leaker’s motives. “Leaks are illegal and hated by those in power (and their followers),” Greenwald says, “precisely because political officials want to be able to lie to the public with impunity and without detection.” The implication of this argument, of course, is that governments, politicians, and organizations should not keep any secrets—that when people in power conceal documents, emails, or information that could embarrass them, they are by definition deceiving the public. Radical transparency certainly sounds noble—but I suspect it’s a standard no public official, or indeed most of us, could survive. It’s so much more convenient to have a double standard: Transparency for thee, but not for me.