Conservative writer Erick Erickson said he knows one of the White House sources who has leaked information critical of President Trump. Erickson said on FOX News on May 16 that “more and more White House sources are leaking to the press so that the president does get the memo … people in the White House are trying to get the president’s attention.” Erickson said this is “not intentional sabotage.” He said the person he knows who is leaking is a Trump supporter who is frustrated with President Trump.
Since Erickson said this the leaks from anonymous sources in the White House have, if anything, increased. Now White House communications director Mike Dubke has resigned and it doesn’t seem a big leap to assume the issues are related—we shouldn’t have to wait long for leaks from the White House to tell us.
At the root of all of this is me-generation, inside-the-beltway-style thinking, as leaks designed to “get the president’s attention” don’t just publicly showcase a lack of loyalty from White House staff, but they actually expose a complete lack of honor in those doing the leaking. It’s hard not to wonder if these leakers even understand what real honor is.
When those on the inside of an embattled administration empower themselves by trying to check their boss (in this case the president of the United States) not from within their chain of command, as they rightly can, but by anonymously leaking information to the media, then what we have is mutinous conduct. That is only honorable in one extreme circumstance.
Before getting to that, it should be said anyone who has spent a good deal of time inside the Beltway has likely been exposed to an unhealthy dose of Machiavellianism. Anyone who has spent a career in Washington, D.C.’s political circus might have a hard time clearly comprehending, much less believing in, real honor. I’ve even had some who live and work inside the Beltway tell me honor is a quality they can’t afford, as others won’t play by gentlemanly rules.
Journalists with that point of view can only do so much damage, but officials with that view can sink a presidency.
Now sure, a good argument could even be made that journalists should be circling sharks who feel most emboldened when there is some blood in the water. And that might be a sound basis for an argument if the Washington media went after Democrats with the same zeal it does Republican administrations.
But whatever we think of journalists, any reasonable person will likely agree that when someone takes a staff position in an administration they are agreeing to support the administration. To accomplish this, instead of trashing their boss and hierarchy in the media, those within an administration would be wiser to come to an understanding of what real honor is, or, if they are not happy with what they signed on for, to leave the administration in protest.
So okay, what is honorable? Dictionary.com begins defining “honor” as “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.” That’s a fine start, but honor is much more than those lofty words. For a more practical understanding of honor, it is helps to look at the actions of those who’ve misunderstood it.
Edward Snowden is a good example of a person who showed he didn’t understand honor. Hopefully being stuck in Russia’s cold embrace has taught him what he clearly didn’t know—though, based on his tweets, it hasn’t.
Some on the right and the left consider what Snowden did to be honorable, even heroic, because they like that he checked Big Brother. I like that, too. (I even have a soon-to-be-released novel coming out called Kill Big Brother that shows how to get it done right.) But the thing is Snowden wasn’t courageous enough to do the real honorable thing. If he took his information on government invasions of privacy to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who helped write the Whistleblower Protection Act and is a strong advocate for whistleblowers, or another member of Congress and let the system fight it out on the inside before, as a last resort, possibly leaking some small portion of the data to the media, then he could be called honorable from a certain and very American point of view.
But that’s not what he did. According to a bipartisan report by the House Intelligence Committee, Snowden calculatingly tried to trick coworkers, sometimes successfully, into giving him their security credentials so he could access their network drives. He then copied all of the information and, finally, leaked it. According to the report the “vast majority of the documents he stole [had] nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests—they instead pertain to military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to America’s adversaries.” Snowden soon fled to China and then to Russia—two nations that hardly stand up for the values he was supposed to be fighting for. And he gave those nations this secret U.S. government data.
There is little that is honorable in Snowden’s actions. Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning), who delivered nearly three-quarters of a million classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks, also acted dishonorably. He/she should have acted as a whistleblower, not a leaker.
Meanwhile, those now in the White House who reportedly decided to check President Trump by leaking information to the media have acted just as dishonorably.
If honor requires them to act, then it also requires them to act in an honorable way. It takes real guts to do that, especially when you realize how the U.S. government’s bureaucracy treats whistleblowers—and then realize that even a congressman can’t do much to help a whistleblower even as the whistleblower’s career is destroyed, often by politically appointed bureaucrats who consider whistleblowers to be traitors.
The honorable, and American, way to check the system is to use its built-in checks and balances, not to hide behind anonymity while muckraking in the media. Going outside the system might be honorable if the checks and balances do not work; checking the entire system like that, however, must be a last resort in a freely elected democracy. (This is arguably what Deep Throat did.)
Those in the current administration who are uncertain about what is honorable should pick up a copy of Herman Wouk’s 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny. Or, if they don’t have the time, watch the 1954 film version starring Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray.
In the film version Captain Philip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) shows clear signs of paranoia as he tries to enforce discipline on the Caine’s crew. Communications officer Thomas Keefer (Fred MacMurray) soon tries to convince executive officer Stephen Maryk (Van Johnson) to consider relieving Captain Queeg on the basis of mental incapacity under Article 184 of Navy Regulations. Maryk refuses, but finally has to do so when the ship is imperiled by a storm and Captain Queeg falls apart under the pressure. The film then turns to a court-martial hearing for Maryk and others for mutiny. They win the case when Captain Queeg falls apart on the witness stand. This leaves them feeling justified, but then, later, their Navy defense attorney (Jose Ferrer), now drunk, confronts them and tells them they were wrong. He tells them they should have helped Captain Queeg along the way instead of mutinously pulling away from him until he collapsed under pressure. The honorable thing to do was to first try to help.
Honor can be a hard, subtle thing like that, especially when the boss doesn’t always showcase all the traits of a man of honor.
Frank Miniter is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide: Recovering the Lost Art of Manhood. He is also the author of This Will Make a Man of You and The Future of the Gun.