Governments have "official" unofficial leaking policies, releasing tons of confidential material to the press without any attribution or public acknowledgement: they leak stuff to maintain good press relations, to test out ideas, to hurt their in-government rivals, or to let information be generally known without having to answer difficult questions about it (for example, letting the press report on "secret" drone strike in Yemen without a press-conference where embarrassing questions about civilian casualties might come up).
But if leaks were entirely self-serving, the press wouldn't jump on them — so governments also tolerate a certain amount of unscheduled, unsanctioned leaking, which dilutes the self-servingness of the brew to the point where the press can stomach it.
As Donald Trump wages war on his internal leakers, he's risking losing an important tool for manipulating public opinion to attain otherwise out-of-reach policy goals. I'm generally OK with this — first, because Trump's policy goals are almost* entirely terrible; second, because even policies that I agree with are better achieved through transparent and politically legitimate means.
* Getting rid of TPP is a notable exception
Now enter Donald Trump. Trump may not be explicitly aware of all the strategic angles, but his anti-leak polemics signify a few things, all consistent with the broader thrust of his presidency.
First, an anti-leaks campaign is a further symbol that direct rhetoric, including on Twitter, will be a major management tool, for better or worse. Second, it signals that the Trump administration is especially uninterested in generating a positive flow of information through the usual mainstream media sources. Third, both the standing bureaucracy and the so-called "Deep State" still have leaks at their disposal.
We're likely to continue to have a president (and immediate staff) pursuing one communications strategy, while the government as a whole remains in the more traditional mode of managing leaks for strategic purposes. But when those two strategies are combined, the most likely result will be informational chaos and a diminution of credibility.
Trump's War on Leaks Might Bring More Chaos, Not Less [Tyler Cowen/Bloomberg]
(Image: Trump's Hair)