Lessons in Swamplarking: The Scurrilous Art of Leaking

Last week, I discussed the swamplarkers, those D.C. denizens who sift through the sands of time and sin looking for that golden nugget of “gotcha” to ruin other people’s lives while enriching their own. Having identified this loathsome species of political animal, let us now endeavor to chronicle their predatory practices, in that we may not become their prey. Today, we delve the swamplarkers’ dirty tricks bag to examine: Leaks.

In the D.C. swamp, “information”—be it an official report or unfounded rumor—is currency. Political animals of all stripes measure their place in the swamp’s pecking order in monetary terms, such as how much they raise from donors or allocate the public’s money. It is not the best barometer of political acumen, let alone public service, but it’s what they do. Thus, in their pursuit of a lofty status founded upon other people’s money, these swamp critters rely upon information to acquire the lucre necessary to surpass their rivals.

And, as multitasking sociopaths, the swamplarkers are ecstatic at the chance to turn information into remuneration while destroying a rival through a leak.

While most often assumed to be a piece of classified information that it is not supposed to be placed in the public square upon pain of prosecution, in practice, “leaks” are any information a swamplarker wishes to dump anonymously in the media cesspool for public consumption. Of course, this requires a media outlet willing to publish the leak. D.C. has no shortage of those. While often conflated, though they can be a swamplarker, a reporter is not a leaker but a complicit conduit for one, since the reporter must put his name to the story and, thus, cannot retain their anonymity. Nevertheless, for media outlets and leakers it’s still a “sin-sin” situation: the leak will increase each party’s swamp status and savings accounts.

For the leaking swamplarker, anonymity—or at least “plausible deniability”—is key. Ever wily and wary of losing status and the money it is premised upon, the swamplarker turned leaker must be careful not to be caught digging up the dirt, because even in the swamp, nobody digs a snitch; and, worse, from the swamplarker’s perspective, the target of the leak may survive the botched hit job and, instead, destroy their insufficiently stealthy assailant.  

So the most “successful” leakers among the swamplarkers rely upon documents, especially official government ones, for their authenticity is prima facie established. One of the most well-known instances of this is the Pentagon Papers, which detailed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. When illegal, such leaks are done to damage a rival who has made a misstep or worse in the performance (or lack thereof) of their duties; or to impede or alter public policy without doing so through legal means and leaving fingerprints at the scene of the crime.

Leaks get murkier when it comes to unofficial documents, though this is overcome by the media outlet relying upon the leaker’s personal bona fides to assess the information’s veracity (as the FBI apparently did with the Steele dossier—oops!); or the documents themselves can be bear authenticating information, such as cell phone records and so forth. While at times there may be public policy reasons or the pretext of one for such leaks, swamplarkers more often use them to claw at their targets from the shadows.

A swamplarker’s most difficult maneuver, however, is to make public an impossible-to-document bit of “information”—often merely gossip or an opinion passed off as “news”—damaging to the selected target. The danger in such a leak is that for it to be published, the media outlet should require at least two “sources” to attest to the information’s accuracy.

Unlike a court of law where a defendant has the right to face their accusers, in the court of public opinion, a target is helpless, as both sources may remain anonymous when the “story” runs and turns their careers into roadkill. There is one way, however, for the target to avoid being sullied by such a scurrilous story: in your entire private and public life, don’t upset two people.

Good luck with that, when draining the swamp. It is as Shakespeare wrote: “’Tis not my speeches which doth offend thee, ’tis my presence. Rancor will out.” Thus, given the incestuous relationship between the swamplark leakers and media outlets, it’s inevitable you’re going to get drenched by a deluge of “fake news” leaks. Don’t bother reaching for an umbrella on the Titanic ship of state sinking in the swamp. Cannonball to the task; wear the mud hurled at you as a badge of honor; and know the American people appreciate it.

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About Thaddeus G. McCotter

An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003 to 2012 and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars, and a Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show" among sundry media appearances.