A limited hangout, or partial hangout, is a public relations or propaganda technique that involves the release of previously hidden information in order to prevent a greater exposure of more important details.
It takes the form of deception, misdirection, or coverup often associated with intelligence agencies involving a release or "mea culpa" type of confession of only part of a set of previously hidden sensitive information, that establishes credibility for the one releasing the information who by the very act of confession appears to be "coming clean" and acting with integrity; but in actuality, by withholding key facts, is protecting a deeper operation and those who could be exposed if the whole truth came out. In effect, if an array of offenses or misdeeds is suspected, this confession admits to a lesser offense while covering up the greater ones.
A limited hangout typically is a response to lower the pressure felt from inquisitive investigators pursuing clues that threaten to expose everything, and the disclosure is often combined with red herrings or propaganda elements that lead to false trails, distractions, or ideological disinformation; thus allowing covert or criminal elements to continue in their improper activities.
Victor Marchetti wrote: "A 'limited hangout' is spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting—sometimes even volunteering—some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further."
Modified limited hangout
In a March 22, 1973 meeting between Richard Nixon, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, and H.R. Haldeman, Ehrlichman incorporated the term into a new and related one, "modified limited hangout."
The phrase was coined in the following exchange:
|“||PRESIDENT: You think, you think we want to, want to go this route now? And the--let it hang out, so to speak?
DEAN: Well, it's, it isn't really that--
HALDEMAN: It's a limited hang out.
DEAN: It's a limited hang out.
EHRLICHMAN: It's a modified limited hang out.
PRESIDENT: Well, it's only the questions of the thing hanging out publicly or privately.
Before this exchange, the discussion captures Nixon outlining to Dean the content of a report that Dean would create, laying out a misleading view of the role of the White House staff in events surrounding the Watergate burglary. In Ehrlichman's words: "And the report says, 'Nobody was involved,'". The document would then be shared with the Senate Watergate Committee investigating the affair. The report would serve the administration's goals by protecting the President, providing documentary support for his false statements should information come to light that contradicted his stated position. Further, the group discusses having information on the report leaked by those on the Committee sympathetic to the President, to put exculpatory information into the public sphere.
The phrase has been cited as a summation of the strategy of mixing partial admissions with misinformation and resistance to further investigation, and is used in political commentary to accuse people or groups of following a Nixon-like strategy.
- Victor Marchetti (August 14, 1978) The Spotlight
- Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews. David Frost, Richard Nixon. Paradine Television, 1977.
- Safire, William (26 March 1989). "On Language; In Nine Little Words". New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
- "Transcript of a recording of a meeting among the president, John Dean, John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell on March 22, 1973 from 1:57 to 3:43 pm". History and Politics Out Loud. Retrieved 2006-08-27.
- Carrol, Jon. "The Richard Nixon playbook". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-08-27.
- McGrory, Mary (2002-04-25). "From Rome, A 'Limited Hangout'". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). p. A29. Retrieved 2010-04-30. "The "modified, limited hangout" route made famous in Watergate seems to be operative in Rome. The pope, in a weak and halting voice, told the assembled red hats things they already knew, such as that pedophilia is not only a crime but also "an appalling sin in the eyes of God." He offered them ambiguous advice as to the remedy, counseling "zero tolerance" and at the same time an unshaken belief in redemption."