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How to leak like a pro.

How a campaign gets damaging information out to the public without harming the reputation of their candidate is a matter of judgment, common sense and expertise. There are several options, and which technique a campaign uses depends on the circumstances of the race and the nature of the damaging information.

Leak to the Press with Conditions. The most direct method of distributing information to the press is, well, for a campaign to distribute the information to the press directly. This allows you to preset conditions that will help shield you from blowback--such as establishing that the information is "off the record" or "not for attribution."

Leak Through Third Parties. Sometimes the nature of the information is so sensitive that it is just too much of a risk to distribute it directly. In those instances, the campaign has the option of using a trusted third-party as the conduit for the information. The goal here is to operate under the "no fingerprints" rule, where the campaign gets the information out but tries to make sure there are no fingerprints attached directly to the distribution.

Leak on the Internet. The Internet provides a whole new means of distributing information. It can be used as a place where damaging information can be conveyed--for example, by getting bloggers to discuss it. Those blogs can become a source of press inquires and lead the mainstream press to the desired leak.

Also, if there is a video or other material evidence to prove the charge, it can be distributed through YouTube (if it's a video) or through leaking to established Internet venues like the Drudge Report.

Don't Leak It, Speak It, Sometimes it's best for campaigns to simply talk openly about information having to do with an opponent. This can be done by a candidate raising it during the course of an interview or debate, a spokesperson bringing it up during a press conference or the campaign airing an ad revealing the damaging information. If the information is tremendously sensitive, releasing it could be a huge risk to the campaign. But in may be worth that risk if the information is so powerful that it could change the outcome of the election.

In the end, releasing damaging information to the press is more a matter of judgment than practiced procedures. It's the art of the leak, not the science, that you need to master.


Tad Devine is a Democratic strategist whose firm, Devine Mulvey, produces TV advertising for House, Senate and other races in the U.S. and around the world.
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Title Annotation:Toolkit
Author:Devine, Tad
Publication:Campaigns & Elections
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2008
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