A White House that views the media as the "opposition party" might be expected to starve scoop-hungry reporters. Instead, the Trump administration is serving up a daily buffet of leaks about internal discord.
Here's Monday's menu, as reported by Politico:
- [President] Trump has told several people that he is particularly displeased with national security adviser Michael Flynn over reports that he had top-secret discussions with Russian officials and lied about it.
- [Trump] has mused aloud about press secretary Sean Spicer, asking specific questions to confidants about how they think he’s doing behind the podium.
- Others who’ve talked with the president have begun to wonder about the future of chief of staff Reince Priebus.
- Gary Cohn, a Trump economic adviser who is close with senior adviser Jared Kushner, has also been the subject of chatter.
Remarkably, Politico cited "conversations with more than a dozen people who have spoken to Trump or his top aides" (emphasis added). We're not talking about one or two disgruntled employees here. A lot of people in the Trump White House are talking to journalists.
Here are three theories that could possibly explain why:
They can’t help it
As Chris Cillizza wrote, Trump is running his government like "The Apprentice" — like a reality show, yes, but also like many private companies run their businesses. Consulting firms such as McKinsey & Co. and banking firms such as Goldman Sachs are known for fostering robust, sometimes ruthless, internal competitions.
People who work in such environments invariably gossip about one another. Most people are not constantly approached by journalists and invited to vent, however.
It could be the case that all these leaks are simply the result of human nature. Maybe White House staffers just can't help themselves.
Or maybe it's all a distraction
Actually, these theories are not mutually exclusive. If Trump would prefer that the media pay attention to dramatic struggles over who has power, rather than what the people in power are actually doing, then he wouldn't necessarily need his entire staff to be in on the scheme. He would just need to know how to promote conflict.
Again, "The Apprentice" seems relevant here. If the show is any indication, Trump certainly knows how to pit people against one another, and he knows what gets ratings.
What if the leakers are baiting the media into negative coverage?
A core White House strategy is to cast the media as a political opponent. Selling the narrative to voters requires the White House to be the subject of unflattering stories — preferably ones that don't really ding the administration on policy and that can easily be spun to make journalists look like rumor mongers peddling "palace intrigue," a term presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway used in a CNN interview last week.
It is probably giving the White House too much credit to assume that all these leaks are part of an orchestrated plot. But it is not inconceivable that aides who want the media to look like a small and petty foe are eager to dish dirt that will produce stories that can be used to reinforce Trump's image of a nagging press corps.