Interesting question raised by the Mickey Kaus JournoList leak: isn’t it wrong for the leaker to have leaked this? Everyone on that list had an understanding that the communications between list members would be off the record. So, even though it was a big listserv, that understanding gave people a legitimate expectation of some privacy.
Then again, as someone who has seen the contexts of his supposedly private e-mails summarized in a comments section to show what a bad guy I am, I think you have to recognize that there will always be cretins who don’t respect normal conventions regarding e-mail privacy, keeping their word, etc. The larger the group, the greater the chance of such a turncoat leaking your e-mail.
And (as I have said before), as long as every journalist on the list is already identified as a openly left-leaning writer (like Eric Alterman, for example) I don’t see the list as Dangerous or Evil. So it’s not like there is some clear overarching societal benefit to breaking the off-the-record understanding.
Whether Kaus did anything wrong is a different question. Is it wrong for a journalist to repeat something that another journalist reveals he was told off the record? If the journalist revealing the comment knows he will be quoted for the record?
I say: not always.
For example, I once interviewed former L.A Times reporter Chuck Philips, who told me about things he claimed the FBI had said to him off the record. I repeated the statements. I thought they made Philips look bad for revealing them. He knew he was on the record when he talked to me. And what he was revealing — that the FBI believed Steven Seagal had not been involved in the plot against Anita Busch — was unlikely to be embarrassing to the FBI, in my estimation.
Under those circumstances, revealing the off the record statement told my readers something about Chuck Philips the reporter — that he was willing to sell out the confidences of his sources if he felt that it helped his agenda. That, I think, was worth sharing.
Reading the content of the e-mails published by Kaus, I think these may have been worth sharing as well.