Newsworthy leaks under attack in LA

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Los Angeles City Hall

Los Angeles City Hall

Credit: chrisinphilly5448

Leaked audio of Los Angeles politicians engaging in crass and racist conversation has roiled local politics for days after it was posted anonymously to Reddit over the weekend. Since then, the president of the city’s unusually powerful council renounced that title, announced she would take a leave of absence, then resigned yesterday. Figures as prominent as President Joe Biden had called for her resignation, as well as those of other council members caught on tape. The head of the influential Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who was also a participant in the conversation, has resigned.

The audio and ensuing reporting are undeniably newsworthy, and the resulting shake-up could transform the political situation in the country’s second largest city. But as is so often the case, some have treated the leak itself as the “real” transgression. A representative for the Federation of Labor sent a letter warning The Los Angeles Times that the conversation had been illegally recorded. (To its credit, the LA Times responded by noting that U.S. law does “not prohibit or punish the receipt and publication of newsworthy information.”) The group appears to have successfully removed what it calls the “illegal” audio from Reddit, per an internal memo that was, yes, leaked to the press.

Unauthorized leaks are frequently the source of critically important stories, but there is almost always a chorus of complaints that the origin of this reporting somehow taints the reporting. That’s nonsense. A central mission of Freedom of the Press Foundation — through its security trainings for journalists, development of SecureDrop software for encrypted anonymous communication, and advocacy for legal protections for reporters covering sensitive material — is to foster an environment where important leaks can get the fearless press coverage they deserve.

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