Thursday, December 07, 2006

PM calls Finance Minister "a perfect ass" for leaking Budget

Bertie Ahern (right) with Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg

In 1947 British Chancellor Hugh Dalton was forced to resign after leaking details of his Budget to a reporter. Details of his Budget appeared in the London Evening Star before he had finished addressing the Commons and he resigned the following day.

The Prime Minister Clement Attlee said Dalton had been "a perfect ass".

Times have indeed changed and last weekend, one or more Irish Ministers leaked themselves or authorised leaks to journalists of key aspects of the Budget that was presented on Wednesday.

In today's age of spin and media manipulation, there is no gaisce in it.

The reason why I comment on it is because when Governments are on the other end of leaks, the normal response is synthetic indignation and posturing.

Just two months ago when the Irish Times published leaked confidential information that had been provided by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to a corruption planning tribunal, in respect of financial support that had been provided to him when he was Minister for Finance in 1993, related to a 1987 marital separation, Ahern himself and colleagues fulminated against the leaker as if it he had done something that was so reprehensible, in contrast with how they would behave.

PD leader Michael McDowell even justified his decision to support Ahern partly on the basis that to do otherwise would be to reward the leaker.

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, writes in today's FT: all of a sudden, the Bush White House is leaking like, well, every other White House. Aides are gabbing to reporters and passing along classified documents for the same reasons aides always do – to build themselves up, to show they are not to blame for mistakes and to get the president’s attention. Though the leaks are anonymous, it is clear that various officials are trying to extricate themselves from the train wreck and advance their post-Bush careers.

For the press, an administration without leaks has been like a very long Christmas party without alcohol. Covering an administration where people do not gab leaves little operational space between stenography and commentary. After six dry years, White House reporters feel giddy, vindicated and perhaps a bit vindictive.

Weisberg writes that: some level of indiscretion is also essential to healthy relations between the presidency and the press. In reality, the interchange between reporters and “sources” is more a two-way street than what is often depicted. Officials talk to journalists to get as well as give information, including about how major news organisations think and operate. And over time, if you do not feed journalists, journalists are sure to feed on you – see under Rumsfeld, Donald.

So, great Irish ministers on high, spare us the manufactured outrage from your white chargers, when the leak traffic is on a contraflow.