Survival Guide for Whistleblowers

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project and co-author of The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide: A Handbook for Committing the Truth, and Jeffrey Wigand, a prominent tobacco industry whistleblower and subject of the movie The Insider, talk about the new legal landscape for whistleblowers and what protections there are for those who speak out about corporate misconduct.

Wigand says the first thing to do when you're preparing to blow the whistle on your employer's dirty secret is to make sure you have the facts, the truth, because you're about to step off the gangplank into an ocean of sharks.

It's a balancing act. And the balancing act I had to do was between the truth, which would save numerous lives throughout the world that are caused by the loss of life through the use of tobacco, and my children. Because the death threats I received were targeted towards my children.

Test the waters of support

Devine suggests that before you blow a whistle, find out if your peers are raising the same questions. Solidarity will make or break your case.

Solidarity from the people who are affected by your decision, which means you have to make that choice with them, rather than just telling them that you've made a nobly heroic decision that's going to have an extreme impact on their life.

The key thing when you're testing the waters is not to expose yourself as a threat to the institution, Devine said, but rather as a loyal employee who is worried, because you could easily be prosecuted.

You cannot do this alone, if there isn't support from other workers, other witnesses then you might want to choose an anonymous hotline to do the right thing, rather than stick your neck out.

New legal landscape

For corporate workers, Devine says there's been a revolution in freedom of speech in the last decade.

It's like we've reached the promised land for what legal rights if you can afford a due process hearing, if you can afford a day in court. But only about twenty percent of whistle blowers who are fired have the money to do that, after all they're unemployed.

But federal workers are still unprotected--they're waiting on the Whistle Blower protection act.


Tom Devine and Jeffrey Wigand


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Comments [7]

Lindsay from Washington, DC

Joe - The Government Accountability Project has been working on and writing about Drake's case for over a year: . Also, we have a petition for Tom urging congressional oversight for his case, which you can sign and share here:

Jun. 01 2011 09:37 AM
DTorres from Nathan Strauss Projects

Sibel Edmonds, the FBI Translator,
that made a liar out of Condi Rice,
and was gagged by the Justice
She certainly qualifies as a whistleblower.

May. 31 2011 01:47 PM
Amy from Manhattan

A whistleblower who should be better known is Richard Piltz, who exposed Bush administration censorship & doctoring of official reports on global science disruption, quit his high-level job in the US Global Change Research Program's Coordination Office, & founded Climate Science Watch[.org].

May. 31 2011 11:19 AM
mike from NY

TWO Q.s--

1, why did you not NAME that senator who placed a secret "hold" on whistle blower bill?

2. why do you not have a big (continuous, if req'd) inquiry into WHY the senate allows "holds" at all---this is not in the Constitution---and in pure political terms why will 99 or 90 allow one or ten to thwart them all?
Why cant we embarass them out of this?

May. 31 2011 11:06 AM

You asked for an example of someone who chose not to blow the whistle. I worked for a nonprofit organization where there was a lot of shuffling of US government funds from one project to another. The President of the organization routinely doctored the financial part of the annual report to the board of directors. My immediate supervisor ordered me to write a budget for $2 million which he then sent out to the field office to spend, when the USAID officer in charge repeatedly said that they had only committed to $1 million. I did not have sufficient hard evidence from documents to nail them. I knew I would be subjected to a great deal of retaliation and I didn't have enough clout to be taken on my word alone. So, I made sure to reorganize myself out of the organization with reasonable compensation. I am happy to say that the president of the organization was later banished to work on a small project in Indonesia by the Board of Directors. My immediate supervisor, however, has gone on to be elevated to ever higher positions within UNICEF.

May. 31 2011 10:59 AM

"Anonymous hotline"? Ha.
I used to work for a global bank, in the office where that hotline rang. The pphone was traced, and the first thing that happened when we got a call was that we would figure out who placed it, based on the info provided.

May. 31 2011 10:57 AM
Joe from Brooklyn

What do you think about this upcoming (early June) prosecution of Thomas Drake? He was a whistle blower against the NSA for waste. This issue was documented in a recent article by Jane Meyer in the New Yorker. Thanks.

May. 31 2011 10:10 AM

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