In the Biden White House, the Leaking to the Press Pipeline Has Gone Dry

From a Washington Post story by Paul Farhi headlined “The Trump White House provided reporters with a gusher of leaks. With Biden, everything’s changed”:

After two and a half months of Joe Biden’s presidency, something is missing from the news coverage of his administration: leaks.

Juicy details about the president’s behind-the-scenes conduct and decision-making? No one seems able to dig up anything interesting.

Early forecasts of major policy proposals on the horizon, a.k.a. the grand tradition of the Washington trial balloon? A story we’re not getting to read these days.

Insider accounts of West Wing rivalries, analyses of who wields influence with the president, detailed lists of Oval Office visitors? No such thing anymore.

Reporters drank lustily from the fire hose of leaks that emanated from the West Wing during the past four years. President Donald Trump’s inexperience and chaotic management style begot “West Side Story”-level infighting among subordinates, which translated into the drip-drip-drip of insider accounts, sometimes on a near-daily basis. The leaks were pooled into detailed narratives, featuring multiple sources. Despite periodic vows of a crackdown, the leaks ran nearly unplugged for four years, including during Trump’s final, desperate days in office.

Since then, the pipeline has gone dry….

“No question, the Trump White House leaked a lot, especially in the early days when the tribal rivalries were fiercest,” said New York Times reporter Peter Baker. “The Biden people have come in more disciplined so far, and we haven’t had as much insight into the behind-the-scenes fights and debates inside the White House.”

That is not to say that fights and debates aren’t happening within the White House, he added. “It may just take us a little longer to learn more about them.”…

Unlike Trump, who came into office with few long-serving aides, Biden is surrounded by a close circle of people who have worked with him, and with one another, for years. Senior White House adviser Anita Dunn is a holdover from the administration of Barack Obama. Chief of staff Ron Klain was one of Biden’s chiefs of staff during his vice presidency, as was current senior counselor Steve Ricchetti. Another senior adviser, Mike Donilon, has worked with Biden since 1981.

The senior staff’s experience and evident familiarity with one another has created a different operating environment, White House reporters say, with fewer apparent power struggles. At least none that have been leaked….

Any administration would seem leakproof compared with the Trump White House. Trump himself was the source of some of his own leaks as president, reporters say — a habit he picked up many years earlier as a New York real estate developer dropping self-serving tips to reporters under the pseudonym John Barron.

The leaking got so bad — or good, at least from a press perspective — that it spawned its own cottage industry. Author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” an early best-selling tell-all about Trumpian chaos and dysfunction, was effectively a book-length leak. It contributed to the downfall of Wolff’s primary source, White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon….

“In my time covering presidents, each president is more buttoned up” until Trump arrived, said Carol Leonnig, a Washington Post reporter who co-authored another best-selling Trump book, “A Very Stable Genius.” “I thought George W. Bush had great message control until Obama came into office. But Trump was unusual.”…

Baker, of the New York Times, notes that as much as leaks annoy presidents and their staffs, they provide a window into decision-making that affects the public. “In a democratic society, we should hope for more transparency and less secrecy,” he said.

As the shades are drawn tighter in Biden’s White House, it’s incumbent upon journalists to find ways to peek behind them, said Jonathan Karl, ABC News’s chief Washington correspondent and the author of still another Trump-era bestseller, “Front Row at the Trump Show.” “Reporters need to work hard to give readers and viewers a sense of what is really going on in the White House,” he said.

Eventually, Biden’s minions will start leaking, too, since all White Houses do, said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution. “These things never last,” said Hess, who wrote a book on Washington leaks and leakers, “The Government/Press Connection: Press Officers and Their Offices,” in 1984.

What would inspire a White House staffer to leak? “On one level, people have different ideas. On another, someone may not like someone very much. That puts cracks in the wall,” Hess said. And reporters will also be able to look to lobbyists, congressional power players, agency staffers.

“Leaks come from people who know things and love to talk about it,” said Hess. “It’s politics, it’s Washington, but it’s also just human nature.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter.

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