OnWords: Leaker

Jul 11, 2017

W. Mark Felt, Watergate's 'Deep Throat'

Not since the Watergate break-in of the early 1970s has the word “leaker” gotten more attention than over the past few months.

When referencing the unauthorized release of information, “leaker” has gained a negative connotation. This tracks rather well with the growing power and insularity of government and corporate institutions.

For the sake of clarity, a leaker should be contrasted with a whistleblower. “Leaker” has gained associations with betrayal, recklessness, and a general lack of patriotism.

A leaker puts our nation’s undercover operations at risk, negating the secrecy that ostensibly keeps our country safe from equally secretive threats.

But a whistleblower, we seem to think, ought to be protected as one who nobly uncovers corruption and malfeasance, exposing the wicked ways of those who wield power.

It’s telling, though, that an infamous online organization chose to call itself “Wikileaks”—granted, “Wikiblowers” might have created a bunch of unintended implications.

I suppose for the leakers themselves the word could create a certain amount of pride. “If those who run things so poorly and with such bad intent want to call me a leaker,” they may say, “I’ll happily wear that badge.”

So if the price to pay for being a whistleblower is to be charged with being a leaker, that might be worth it to make the world better.

But maybe the greater danger is that ordinary people become fatigued with all the “leaker” accusations and no longer respond to the ways powerful people cover up their evil deeds.