As reported by The Hartford Courant, April 13, 2006.

Start Spreading the News

We Thrive On Secrets: Secrets That Are Secret, And Ones That Are Not-So-Secret

By Greg Morago

Listen, do you want to know a secret?

Absolutely. But if it's the one about Bush and Cheney authorizing leaks of secret pre-war intelligence on Iraq to counter critics about the war, we already heard that one.

Do you promise not to tell?

Are you kidding? We're going to share the nugget with everyone we know. Just like Us Weekly, we're going to spill the beans on Jennifer Aniston's secret wedding plans or Lindsay Lohan's new secret romance.

Closer, let me whisper in your ear.

We're all ears, keep talking. And while you're at it, we're posting our own private secrets on websites such as cavecanum.com or checking out America's unburdening on the secrets-packed blog postsecret.com.

Say the words you long to hear...

Please don't tell us another government official has a dirty little secret. We're still agog over Brian Doyle, the Department of Homeland Security spokesman who used his computer to seduce what he thought was a 14-year-old girl but was really a computer-crimes detective.

With all due respect to the Beatles, yes, we want to know a secret. We want to know as many as possible. We're hooked on secrets. We can't get enough of them. American pop culture - from secrets-fueled reality television to the secrets-clouded machinations of organized religion to the secret-studded day-to-day operations of government - is consumed by secrets. And only when the secret is revealed or talked about in non-secretive terms are we happy.

Last week provided many examples of the kinds of secrets that rule American life, from benign to maddening. The "Today" show's Katie Couric finally admitted what had been in the public fray for months: that she was leaving NBC for CBS, calling the move "the worst-kept secret in America."

It was also a week that saw the Bush administration backpedaling on the Valerie Plame affair ("Scooter" Libby's bag of secrets, to be sure) and a new revelation that the government was planning for a military strike against Iran. (Oops, that was supposed to be a secret, too).

"In the last decade, we've seen an increase in secrets revealed, after the Clinton presidency, where a couple of times a week they'd throw out a pseudo leak, just to see how it played," said Matthew T. Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs. "Now leaks are treated as poll questions to see how it'll play in mainstream America."

Certainly, when it comes to government, especially in its relationship to the media, secrets are part of the daily grind. "The government leaks things [to the press] to gauge public reaction," said Paul Levinson, chairman of the department of communication and media studies at Fordham University. "It's a well-known secret."

While the government may not always be good at keeping secrets, the entertainment industry, oddly enough, is. Hollywood, a place where secrets are currency, knows how to keep plot elements from big-budget movies and breakout television shows a secret. Do you think the winner of "American Idol" or the big clues in "Lost" would ever be revealed before their anointed time? Never.

"If you think about TV shows like `24,' where everything depends on the surprise, that's all about secrets. They do a pretty good job about keeping things secret," Levinson said, "which shows, if you want to keep something secret, you can."

The entertainment industry certainly knows that if you want to create buzz or deflect bad publicity, you let out a secret. Secret wedding-night videos. Secret pregnancies. Secret childhood abuse. Secret love affairs.

The celebrity magazine business owes its success to prying open secret boxes. Secrets are what make magazines like Us Weekly and People and television shows such as "Access Hollywood" and "Extra" so popular. Cottage industries bank on secret-telling, Felling said.

It's all part of the game - a game we know too well from our own secret lives.

"Secrets are power. Knowledge is power," said Dr. Robert Trestman, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center. "Who knows what first gets to determine who gets to make what decision."

Trestman said he doubts there has been any substantial change over generations in the human propensity to traffic in secrets. It's as old as the hills.

"Secret sharing in relationships is intrinsic to a sense of belonging and group identity," he said. "Adolescents form cliques so they can define the `in' group vs. the `out' group. And the `in' group gets to share information or gossip, and the `out' groups have to worry about something they're not privy to."

Growing older doesn't necessarily mean we grow wiser, Trestman said. Our secrets only become more complicated. "Our games get played out on a larger field," he said. "In terms of power and governmental issues, secrets are the stuff of statehood. The manipulation of information is the hallmark of power and power management. Leaking information to the press is nothing new to this administration. It's been around forever. It's a way of shaping public opinion, of building your case or damaging someone else's case."

With all this consumption of secrecy, could we get to the point that we're so stuffed with secrets that we don't crave them anymore? We might already be there.

"On the mass communication level, the notion of keeping secrets has been devalued. One hundred years ago, if someone said, `damn,' people would take notice. Now, you can say almost anything. Secrets are the same way," Levinson said. "Once upon a time when a secret was revealed, people paid an enormous amount of attention to it. But every time a secret is revealed, although there's some punch to it, we're whittling away at some of the psychological value of the secret."

Whether it's in the classroom, boardroom, living room, bedroom or a certain oval-shaped room, secrets play a big role in our lives. And while they're part of our daily diet, almost no good can come of a secret, Trestman said.

"As a general rule, when I work with people in the role of a patient, I counsel them not to keep secrets," he said, "with certain exceptions."

I've known a secret for a week or two, nobody knows, just we two.

Yeah, right.