I am put in mind about the story of The Little Juggler. What can I possibly add to the celebration of the flood of news that keeps me, and tens of millions of others, glued to our TV sets or IPhones? I have never even met a newspaper reporter, although a good college friend went on, after we had lost touch, to work for the TIMES. But there is one aspect of this complex story that fascinates me, and a personal experience from thirty years ago may illuminate it a bit. I refer to the leaks.
In 1986, I spent five weeks in Johannesburg, South Africa lecturing on Marx in the Philosophy Department at the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits. The chairman of the department was Jonathan Suzman, the nephew of a famous anti-apartheid activist Member of Parliament named Helen Suzman. The Suzmans were a wealthy family, and Jonathan belonged to a toney downtown private men’s club called the Rand Club. After I had been there three or four weeks, he invited me to dine at the club with him and a small group of prominent men – some bankers and corporate executives, the editor of one of the leading English language newspapers [not The Daily Mail.] I borrowed a tuxedo [only the third time I had worn one] and went off to see how the one percent lived. There were six or eight of us in a private dining room, served by quiet, efficient, deferential Black men doing their best to be invisible.
At this time, the government was carrying out active raids against groups of fighters based in Botswana who were members of the military wing of the African National Congress, uMkhonto we Sizwe. The newspaper editor gave those of us at the dinner some not-for-publication information about bombing raids carried out by the South African air force against suspected camps inside Botswana. A lively discussion ensued about whether the raids would be successful, where they would strike next, and the size of the rebel forces.
I sat there, utterly mystified by the ease with which these men spoke about secret matters in the presence of Black waiters, who, during the conversation, continued to refill our coffee cups and clear away dishes. Then I realized the truth: these smart, well-educated, politically clued up men simply did not see the waiters, they did not exist for them save as extensions of their dining needs. It was exactly like Mitt Romney’s famous 47% remark, made at a supposedly closed dinner and recorded on a cellphone by one of the waiters. Since I had nothing to contribute to the conversation, I amused myself by wondering which of the waiters was the ANC operative charged with reporting everything that was said at the dinner.
As the flood of leaks continues, I find myself wondering who is doing the leaking. There were very few people in the Oval Office when Trump blurted out top secret information to the Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister [the Oval Office, I am told, is actually not very big, and will not hold large gatherings.] The leak must have come from one of those few people present. You do not need to conduct an extensive investigation to make a short list of suspects. Are there people working in the White House who are as invisible to Trump and his “senior advisors” as those waiters were to my dinner partners at the Rand Club? Some flunky must be tasked with actually typing up the notes taken by some other flunky at the meeting. My understanding is that when a new administration come into office, everyone in the old White House right down to the chef, the bathroom attendants, and cleaning staff is fired and new people are brought in. These leaks must be coming from supposed loyalists.
As our distinguished President likes to ask, What the hell is going on?