04/05/2007 - The recent conviction of former White House aide Scooter Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice focused renewed attention on the subject of news leaks - the unofficial dissemination of newsworthy, politically sensitive information to the press and public. Libby's case centered on the leak of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, although no one was actually charged with revealing Plame's status.
Libby's trial drew extensive press coverage, but it has had little apparent impact on views about whether news leaks help or harm the public's interest. Attitudes about news leaks are virtually the same now as they were in 1986, during Ronald Reagan's second term. Currently, 42% of those who are aware of what news leaks are say they serve the public's interest by providing Americans with information they should have; about as many (44%) believe such leaks hurt the public interest by revealing information that people should not have.
Like many of the public's attitudes about the press, opinions about news leaks are more politicized than during the mid-1980s. In 1986, only modest differences separated the views of Republicans and Democrats as to whether news leaks help or hurt the public's interest. Among those familiar with news leaks, 48% of Democrats said they served the public's interest, compared with 39% of Republicans. But in the current survey, about twice as many Democrats as Republicans say leaks serve the public's interest (53%-26%, based on those who know what a news leak is).
Notably, people who say they have heard a lot about the Libby trial have similar opinions about news leaks as those who have heard little or nothing about the case. Roughly four-in-ten (43%) of those who have heard a lot about Libby's trial - and are familiar with news leaks - say they generally serve the public's interest. This compares with 41% of those who are aware of how leaks occur and have heard little or nothing about the trial.
Read the full report News Leaks Remain Divisive, but Libby Case Has Little Impact, Unauthorized Disclosures to Media Seen as Motivated More by Personal than Political Reasons on the Pew Research Center Web site.