Editors Love Leaks, But Are Furious That Fired Darrell Issa Aide Shared Reporter E-mails

The media's policy on leaks is obviously "Good for me, but not for thee." It is okay for journalists to score scoops and win Pulitzer Prizes by printing everyone else’s secrets. It's okay for Julian Assange to goad the U.S. "military industrial complex" with WikiLeaks. But leak reporter E-mails, and you have no ethics whatsoever.

Politico broke the story that Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for House Government Oversighty Committee chairman Darrell Issa, may have shared reporter E-mails with New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich, who's writing a book on Washington's "culture of self-love.' Issa fired Bardella for upsetting the reporters.

The story included high dudgeon from Politico editor-in-chief John F. Harris, in a letter sent to Issa: “The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances,” Harris wrote. “As the editor-in-chief of POLITICO, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that POLITICO journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”

Politico editor Jim VandeHei echoed Harris in a video on their website, suggesting it's an "Extraordinary breach of the expectations that reporters have in dealings with a spokesman" and Republicans are "very upset, very nervous" about this "huge breach."

Then, when the Times fired back that Politico had submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for reporter E-mails, Harris shifted his spin. From Billy House at National Journal:

In fact, within hours of Bardella’s firing, the Times appeared to fire back on Tuesday night by publishing an item revealing that Ken Vogel, a Politico reporter, had himself in 2009 made a broad Freedom of Information Act request to at least a half-dozen cabinet departments for all government communications with reporters or editors of 16 news organizations.

The Times reported that in an interview about Vogel's FOIA request on Tuesday, Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris said there was a difference between a routine request for correspondence under FOIA and an arrangement in which e-mails were passed on immediately to another reporter....

In a statement on Tuesday, Issa explained "While our review of allegations raised by Politico is not yet complete, it has become clear that the committee’s Deputy Communications Director Kurt Bardella did share reporter e-mail correspondence with New York Times journalist  Mark Leibovich for a book project.  Though limited, these actions were highly inappropriate, a basic breach of trust with the reporters it was his job to assist, and inconsistent with established communications office policies.  As a consequence, his employment has been terminated."

You can't have a staffer who's your liaison to reporters who's hated by all the reporters. House concluded:

The irony, of course, is that Leibovich’s book was the outgrowth of an April 2010 New York Times Magazine profile of Politico superstar Mike Allen, which detailed how much influence Allen, Politico, and the media in general have on the workings of government, particularly the White House and Congress. The profile described Allen variously as the “most influential” or “most important” journalist in Washington.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis