When Did Whistleblowers Become the Bad Guys?

It was only four decades ago that Deep Throat helped expose Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Yes, it was an embarrassing time for the country, but the populace was appreciative of the then anonymous informant for shedding light on government corruption. Knowing the truth and fixing the problems were ultimately more important than pretending that wrongdoing was not occurring.

Now, however, there is no such affection for whistleblowers. The government and media vilify those who dare to speak the truth. Somehow, pointing out wrongdoing has become far more of a crime than the wrongdoing itself.

The demonization of whistleblowers is growing in the business world, according to The Wall Street Journal. Employees fear being labeled a snitch or ostracized by their coworkers for potentially costing the company jobs or profits should they report illicit corporate actions. While laws are supposedly in place to protect those who do step forward, too often they fall short: airline employees who brought attention to insufficient safety inspections were demoted to desk jobs. A miner who reported illegal, unsafe work conditions (which would lead to a coworker fatality the following day) is being held criminally responsible. A former Wells Fargo employee who exposed the bank’s practice of targeting minority communities with high-interest loans is now having her home fraudulently foreclosed on by the same bank in an apparent act of retaliation.

But how can we trust the government to protect against corporate assaults on whistleblowers when they perpetrate the same attacks on the truth?

  • Donald Vance reported to the FBI that the military was intentionally overlooking illegal arms sales in Iraq. For revealing this potentially dangerous scenario, Vance was arrested and mistreated by the military for more than three months.
  • After Jack Kiriakou exposed the fact that the U.S. government practices torture on terrorism suspects, he was sentenced to more than two years in prison for potentially damaging the reputation of the country. For the record, those who committed the acts of torture have still never been charged.
  • A group of Air Force personnel who reported that military bodies were being improperly handled and transported found themselves either fired or suspended for sharing news of the misconduct.
  • In 2005, Bunny Greenhouse, who achieved the highest rank for civilian officers in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was suddenly demoted to a low-level cubicle job in another department. Greenhouse knows the move was a consequence of testifying that she had seen billions of dollars misdirected toward Halliburton. “It’s just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing,” Greenhouse said.
  • Perhaps most famously, Bradley Manning shared classified documents with Wikileaks that revealed some of the shadier practices of the American military. As a result, the U.S. has branded him a traitor and held Manning in inhumane conditions for nearly three years. Only now is he beginning to see his day in court.

“The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know,” Beth Daley, a representative of The Project on Government Oversight, told CBS News. “But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, ‘Don’t blow the whistle or we’ll make your life hell.’ It’s heartbreaking. There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It’s a disgrace. Their lives get ruined.”

It should come as good news that, this month, the 2013 NDAA included new protections for those who work in defense and expose government corruption. However, according to Mother Jones, when President Obama signed the bill, he issued a signing statement noting that the whistleblower provisions “could be interpreted in a manner that would interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials” and vowed to ignore them as he sees fit. In other words, what whistleblower protections? Keep your mouth shut.

Potential whistleblowers should worry. Coming from Obama, that’s not just lip service. In its first term alone, the Obama administration has utilized the ancient “Espionage Act of 1917” to prosecute a record number of people who leaked information about federal wrongdoing to the press – more people than all previous presidential administrations combined.

For a man who has run two campaigns on a platform of transparency, why is he so desperate to keep secrets? And much like immigrant deportations, how many times do we need to learn that our “liberal” president is actually more tyrannical than George W. Bush?

Paired with the ongoing criminalization of protesting and dissent, the persecution of whistleblowers should be a major red flag. The United States government, originally created with checks and balances to protect against corruption, will no longer tolerate any questioning from its citizens. Or for its citizens to be aware of what its policies actually are, for that matter.

Without truth, there is no freedom. Only a truly corrupt government would be this concerned with vilifying and intimidating whistleblowers.


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M.N. J.
M.N. J.9 months ago

I hope everybody is making sure their friends and relations are seeing the award-winning documentary Citizenfour, now showing on HBO and HBO On Demand.

I don't understand the anti-whistleblower mood of the country, either. Maybe this will help.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams9 months ago

Instead of getting all embarrassed and fighting against whistle blowing, government should investigate all complaints. Where complaints are valid, government should do what it can to correct the problem complained about. Where those complaining have not gotten the facts straight, government should just drop the complaint and go on.

Miriam O.

Thanks so much for sharing! Interesting!

Terry V.
Terry V.2 years ago


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

whistleblowers are heroes, but of course people doing bad things will want to villainize them

Beth M.
Beth M.2 years ago

Interesting! Thanks for this info!

Marion W.
Marion W.2 years ago

and this comes out After the 2nd inauguration of Obama.

Sandra C.
Past Member 2 years ago


Don H.
Don H.2 years ago

Bradley Manning's actions were those of a whistle blower.

He exposed war crimes by the United States of America. What Manning did was expose an inconvenient truth about the Iraq War. And this "truth" happened during the Bush Administration.

Not that it mattered after President Obama declared, "We must look forward." thus turning a blind eye to justice and certain war crimes by the Bush Administration.

Tolga U.
Tolga U.2 years ago

blow them all