History has recorded every modern American president in a towering rage over leaks at some point in his administration. But each responded to this classic Washington phenomenon in his own way. Harry S. Truman, who has hardly known for keeping his thoughts to himself, was nonetheless especially frenzied about leaks concerning atomic energy. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who is reported as flying off the handle on numerous occasions about leaks, nonetheless is the president whose recorded quotes on the subject are few. The explanation goes to Eisenhower's magisterial style as president. The last thing his image needed was the sense that he could be irritated by as small a gnat as the press. John F. Kennedy was notorious for being himself the source of many of the leaks that irritated him the most. The reason was his bad habit of being friends with many reporters and publishers, to whom he would speak candidly without remembering to say that the information imparted was off the record.
There was no difficulty acquiring the words of Lyndon B. Johnson on leaks. The problem was getting a quote that could be printed in a family newspaper. Richard M. Nixon's concern about leaks, of course, lead to the notorious Plumbers, break-ins, and wiretaps that helped destroy his presidency. Nixon on leaks is a subject extensively documented in the Nixon Tapes. Gerald R. Ford is the modern president who was most sanguine about leaks. In fact, the quote recorded here is considered to be not as characteristic of the man as the remark he once made to a Newsweek interviewer about staff feuds conducted through leaks: "I'm probably too easygoing on people who work for me. I tend to overlook. I don't get angry and stomp my feet and swear at people. Some people take that to mean I'm too easygoing."
Observers have speculated that Jimmy Carter's ineffectiveness as president, like Gerald Ford's, was at least partially caused by his inability to squelch leaks, but for a different reason. Carter was so concerned about leaks -- even "paranoid," in the words of several former Carter associates -- that he constricted the number of participants in policy- making meetings. Thinking, perhaps not incorrectly, that lower-echelon aides were the sources of many leaks, he froze them out. This led to decisions being made by tight cliques with access to ever-smaller amounts of outside influence.