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'Year of the Leak' left many with egg on their faces

If 2010 was the year of anything, it was "The Year of the Leak." Or "leak year," if you prefer.

From the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the WikiLeaks dump of government secrets on the Internet, this was the year we learned that nothing is secure — and once it is out, there is no containing it.

From the feet of (maybe) New York Jets coach Rex Ryan's wife to the private parts of (maybe) Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, new meaning was given this year to the phrase "naked truth."

And Jack Nicholson was right — some of us just couldn't handle it.

We know that the Internet has changed the way information is delivered, but it has also changed the kind of information that's delivered.

Sites such as TMZ, Gawker and Deadspin, to name just a few, have demonstrated that the capacity of the Web for gossip is boundless — and without boundaries.

We can hear Mel Gibson's profanity-laced threats to the mother of his daughter. We can see old TV footage of U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell confessing to having dabbled in witchcraft during a drunken Halloween date.

There is Tiger Woods' pillow talk with mistresses, and the pictures of country music star Faith Hill before Redbook magazine cleaned her up with an airbrush.

All of these tidbits were leaked to fringe news organizations — for which the leakers were probably paid hefty bounties. But this kind of news only stayed on the fringes, until the mainstream media were shamed into reporting on it.

Can you imagine how hard it must have been for New York Times editors after Deadspin.com broadcast four videos of Michelle Ryan showing off her "pretty feet" while the videographer, with a voice very like that of her husband, the Jets' coach, asked permission to smell them?

No doubt the Times was holding its nose when it finally went to print on this story and its role as a "distraction" for the Jets as they entered the playoff season.

Sheesh.

Coach Ryan said it was a "private matter," and indeed it might have been — back in the day. But the private behavior is officially news now, and there are cancelled checks to prove it.

It was the National Enquirer that forced former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to confess that Rielle Hunter's daughter was his, and it advertises on its front page that it pays for news tips.

It was, after all, TMZ.com (owned by Time Warner, parent company of Time and Sports Illustrated, by the way) that reported the news of Michael Jackson's death even before the coroner's official pronouncement.

It was the scoop of the decade, and, along with the John Edwards' love child and Tiger Woods' car crash, it sent notice to mainstream media — and to mainstream consumers — that if you ignore these leaks from the fringe media, you will be washed away.

So far, only WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has suffered more than red cheeks from all this leaking.

He learned the hard way, after releasing a mountain of embarrassing diplomatic cables, that if governments can't shut you up, they might just lock you up. He ended up in prison faster than you can say, "French president Nicolas Sarkozy is an emperor with no clothes."

And it is not just teens over-sharing on Facebook anymore. U.S. State Department employees also learned that you can't un-ring the bell.

Calling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev " Robin to [ Vladimir] Putin's Batman" may be amusing happy-hour chatter, but it is clearly nothing you can put in a cable any longer.

Inviting the enemy into the room doesn't dull the impact of too-much-information. Various housewives, too-large families and sports teams have discovered that they don't always look good on the small screen, and their language sounds worse. Imagine a world where your mother calls you to scold you for your potty mouth after watching you swear on a television documentary.

It used to be that if you got caught behaving badly — cursing at your young daughter over the phone like Alec Baldwin, delivering a drunken, anti-Semitic tirade to the police like Mel Gibson, sexting a stable of different women like Tiger Woods — you could simply issue a statement that you were entering rehab.

But I am pretty sure Gawker and TMZ have news sources there, too. Just ask Lindsay Lohan.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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