More than ever before, unauthorized and uncontrolled disclosures of information are driving and illuminating the national conversation.
Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns saw sudden daylight despite the candidate’s reticence about revealing them — a defiance of routine practice for presidential hopefuls.
That document drop was low-tech. Someone put them in the mail to newspapers with a postmark from the Trump Towers.
In contrast, the releases that vex Hillary Clinton come 21st century-style.
Emailed transcripts of her high-paid remarks to big bankers surfaced via WikiLeaks, embarrassing a candidate who clearly said one thing behind closed doors and another in public as she fended off Bernie Sanders’ populist primary campaign.
Other relevant data made it through the front door of government.
Clinton’s office tried to take State Department emails private — and shield from disclosure those that weren’t destroyed but were demanded in court by the Judicial Watch organization. Missives eventually emerged that showed staff interactions with people from the Clinton Foundation.
Trump’s decades in the tabloid limelight built a record of his preenings on “Access Hollywood,” “The Apprentice,” “The Howard Stern Show” and news programs — which exposed his lewd talk and led women to come forward alleging assault.
Technology has not only brought transparence that the campaigns and parties can’t do much to control, but also a speed of communication that sometimes leaves them exposed.
Trump’s habit of frequently tweeting messages to the world at large has showed how impulsive he can be. He blurted insults, self-congratulation, raw rumors and suspicions with 140-character abandon. Pity the political adviser trying to stop him.
For the Clinton campaign, emailed memos that ended up on WikiLeaks read at times like certain transcripts of the old Nixon-era reel-to-reel tapes — not for any illegality, but for candid, closed-door assessments by political staff.
Such instant exchanges are likely to be careless and devoid of tact. In the old days, memos might be typed and carried to someone else’s desk or not written at all, with meetings and one-on-one conversations and internal phone calls the preferred methods of communication.
Motives and perceived motives for the leaks add another dimension to the national conversation. It is unknown who sent out the solitary Trump tax filing. Clinton and government officials tie WikiLeaks disclosures to Russian hackers, but details are hazy. Video files of broadcast networks are private property, so their dissemination can become controversial.
Information becomes a chaotic work in progress in the age of the web.