A news leak is the unsanctioned release of confidential information to news media. It can also be the premature publication of information by a news outlet, of information that it has agreed not to release before a specified time, in violation of a news embargo.
Sutter's Mill, 1851. First Discovery of Gold in California, January 19th, 1848.
James Marshall's discovery of gold in the South Fork of the American River at Sutter's mill on January 24, 1848, started the great rush of Argonauts to California. Marshall and Captain John Sutter tried their best to keep the discovery of gold quiet until the construction of Sutter's mill was completed, well knowing that the workmen would desert their jobs and turn to digging gold. The news leaked out, and the stampede began.
Leaks are often made by employees of an organization who happened to have access to interesting information but who are not officially authorized to disclose it to the press. They may believe that doing so is in the public interest due to the need for speedy publication, because it otherwise would not have been able to be made public, or simply as self-promotion, to elevate the leaker as a person of importance. Leaks can be intentional or unintentional. A leaker may be doing the journalist a personal favor (possibly in exchange for future cooperation), or simply wishes to disseminate secret information in order to affect the news. The latter type of leak is often made anonymously.
Sometimes partial information is released to the media off the record in advance of a press release to "prepare" the press or the public for the official announcement. This may also be intended to allow journalists more time to prepare more extensive coverage, which can then be published immediately after the official release. This technique is designed to maximize the impact of the announcement. It might be considered an element of political 'spin', or news management.
Some people who leak information to the media are seeking to manipulate coverage. Cloaking information in secrecy may make it seem more valuable to journalists, and anonymity reduces the ability of others to cross-check or discredit the information.
Some leaks are made in the open; for example, politicians who (whether inadvertently or otherwise) disclose classified or confidential information while speaking to the press.
There are many reasons why information might be leaked. Some of these include:
People with access to confidential information may find it to their advantage to make it public, without themselves appearing to be responsible for publishing the information. For example, information which will embarrass political opponents, or cause damage to national security, may be leaked.
People privy to secret information about matters which they consider to be morally wrong or against the public interest — often referred to as "whistleblowers" — may leak the information.
People may be enticed to expose secret information for other self-serving motives, such as financial gain.
The Pentagon Papers, a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Made public on the front page of the New York Times in 1971
Spies for Peace, a group of anti-war activists associated with CND and the Committee of 100 who publicized government preparations for rule after a nuclear war. In 1963 they broke into a secret government bunker where they photographed and copied documents. They published this information in a pamphlet, Danger! Official Secret RSG-6. Four thousand copies were sent to the national press, politicians and peace movement activists.
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