We used to call them tattletales, a child’s term for telling wrong-doings on one another. Bill Cosby joked that his wife sent their best tattle-telling child along with him for a blow by blow account of his activities.
Today, a tattletale is called a whistleblower and it is not perceived as a child’s term. Whistleblowers reveal secrets that may be covert, and implies someone who fears reprisals.
Mordechai Vanunu, AKA John Crossman, claimed he didn’t believe in weapons of mass destruction so he secretly filmed and distributed information regarding an Israeli nuclear facility. Mossad, Israel’s CIA, captured him. He was convicted of treason and spent 18 years in prison.
Mark Felt was later known as deep throat. He was the FBI agent who told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post about the Watergate break-in. The spotlight was shined on him again when he was convicted of violating the civil rights of members of the Weather Underground Organization to prevent what he thought might be bombing attempts. He was fined $7,000 but appealed his conviction and was later pardoned by Ronald Reagan.
Sherron Watkins blew the whistle on Enron when she told the told the world in 2001 that the company was a ‘nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.’ TIME Magazine selected her as one of their People of the Year. She has since written a book and gives speeches on why it is so important to tell the truth.
Dr. Jeffrey Wigand accused Brown and Williamson Tobacco company of intentionally putting more nicotine in cigarettes so that people would become addicted. He appeared on ’60 Minutes’ in 1996. A movie was made about him and he devotes himself to Smokefree Kids, Inc., a not-for-profit organization.
But there is a caveat. Though some whistleblowers serve us well, many are threatened, cursed, and denigrated. Jeffrey Wigand had to hire bodyguards. Mark Felt was dogged for the rest of his career. Some lost their jobs, their friends, their wives, and their families.
Mike Rogers is not a whistleblower. He’s the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee but he’s out searching for whistleblowers concerning the Benghazi affair. If you are someone he is looking for, you might wish to hunt up an attorney to represent you. Some law firms do nothing else. If you wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation and/or damage to your career, the lawyer assigned to you can aim for that goal but can’t guarantee it.
What would you do if you discovered illegal activity in business or government? What if you are threatened? Would you still report it? What is it about human nature that targets tattletales and whistleblowers?