On behalf of the International Association of Whistleblowers (IAW),
A new film "The Informant" opened this weekend to less than rave reviews. The movie is loosely based on the story of one individual who helped break the largest corporate corruption case (at that time) and involved a world-wide food price-fixing scheme. In the film, the protagonist is presented not as a troubled hero, but instead as a comic dupe - and thus represents whistleblowers by implication (if not intent) as wild eyed caricatures. While we should all be able to laugh at ourselves; whistleblowing is not a laughing matter.
Maybe if the film was not based on such a serious matter or a true story, we could see the humor in it. But for real life whistleblowers the sacrifices made are too great and devastation suffered all too real - and thus, not funny at all. Worse still, this comic portrayal demeans the very real sacrifices made and persecution endured for the public interest. Unfortunately, this depiction represents truth tellers and whistleblowers in a distorted and potentially dismissive light that casts a degrading pall by implication if not intention.
Famed tobacco whistleblower Jeff Wigand, and subject of the major motion picture the "Insider" asks where is the moral outrage. "Persons of conscience who see or observe harm being committed must come forward with legal knowledge, support and protection for this courageous act." Adding to Burke's Triumph of Evil - All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. "No more BYSTANDERISM. Whistleblowing is the elixir for cleaning and cleansing the moral morass we are in. There must be protection for all."
Why should anyone care if whistleblowers and their contributions to our society are treated lightly, ridiculed, or dismissed altogether - particularly at this juncture in history? The answer is clear considering the recent near collapse of the economy and impending changes in healthcare that will redefine us as a people and a nation for decades to come. Where were the voices of the many thousands who watched the travesties leading us to the brink of collapse of our entire economy, who never spoke up at all, or who tried and were ignored or silenced? More to the point at the moment, where are those voices now and what they know? And how is it possible that the whole issue of what stopped or is stopping them from coming forward is not a central part of all debates in this country?
We need to come to an understanding of what happened and what we must do to prevent it from happening again. This is particularly pressing as we turn our attention to the future. The very legislation Whistleblower Protection Act that was pending at the time of our near financial Armageddon, that would have offered protection for those who would seek to step forward in the future, got quietly killed in Congress.
We do not desire to disparage or malign a motion picture whose only intention is entertainment. It is our intention, however, to make note of the contrasting realities of the majority of true-life whistleblowers and the under-protected and under appreciated service they provide to our country. We need to do this if we are to help bring our great nation back from the brink of destruction and utter collapse it barely escaped and still faces; and assure that the corruption by people and practices that brought us here can never again be executed in any form, let alone unhindered and unseen.
The facts are simple. As the trends that brought us here built over time, there were (and still are) many who wanted to come forward to reveal to the world the unethical and blatantly illegal activities that threaten the foundation and fabric of our country. The fact is, many tried. Many more wanted to. Ultimately, none were heard, and most were persecuted for their integrity, honor, and love of country.
The questions we put forward which the media often ignore are these:
1. What stopped those who desired and/or sought to come forward from being able to do so and/or be heard and supported by those in power and the media who could make a difference?
2. What governmental protections and social supports would have made a difference and resulted in the prevention of the catastrophic circumstances we are now in?
3. What is the price we will pay in both the immediate present and the unfolding future if these conditions continue to go unidentified and unchanged?
4. How is it possible that the single most important piece of whistleblower protective legislation pending in Congress, the Whistleblower Protection Act, got removed and by whom?
5. How is it possible that the healthcare debates are being limited to issues of payment and or reimbursement? In the current debate, we are ignoring a corrupt system that rewards doctors for denying service. We are currently failing to protect the public body as well as the "fiscal fisc" and taxpayer funds, thus ignoring whistleblowers who would step forward to assure good healthcare, public safety, and national defense.
Unfortunately, we as individuals, coalitions, and as individual public interest groups can speak all too well to these questions. Those who seek to step forward and do what is right are generally faced with punitive measures that include loss of jobs or employment opportunities and alienation from professional and peer networks. Some retaliations result in the irreversible ruination of their entire lives, and in some cases prosecution, incarceration, threat and even loss of life itself. One of our own leaders, after speaking out on a health care fraud, was poisoned with arsenic in his home; others have been forced into homeless shelters with their families and had other attempts made on their lives as well.
Preeminent national defense whistleblower Ernie Fitzgerald endured the retaliation "play book" during the Nixon Administration; first you isolate the "violator" who seeks to reveal the truth and correct a situation. Then you discredit them and if need be, ruin their reputation and make them appear unstable or even insane. You threaten or destroy their ability to have any livelihood at all though blacklisting. And if need be, you intimidate the friends and family, and start making others pay a price for the actions or support of a whistleblower. Frequently this causes co-workers, friends and family to turn on the whistleblower, causing them to be isolated even further.
Even more distressing is the sweeping corruption of the governmental and judicial processes themselves; those who did take action faced inaction by the courts for decades just to enforce protections already in place and/or to move their cases forward. As we embark on new discussions on healthcare and financial industry reform; whistleblowers protections must be part of the larger discussions to protect and assure our future as the country and people we aspire to be. We suggest that the practice and delivery side of healthcare with its suppression of voices be included in all discussions and reforms. We also suggest that the reasons they are not part of the discussion and formulae for solutions must also be part of the larger discussions and solutions.
In the end, if we do not protect and celebrate those who would step forward at potentially great personal cost in any case to provide that crucially needed information, how to we expect to ever actually understand all that has happened, is happening, and make a difference? It is one thing to make a movie that makes fun of one individual who, however caricatured, made a very real difference. It is potentially fatal as a nation to fail to recognize and support those amongst us who have and continue to risk all on the public's behalf, and a sure path to repeat history if we do not listen to them and hear. However entertaining this movie might be, we cannot let the public think whistleblowers are unstable and self serving or worse. Whether they appear from any source healthcare, national defense or any other area; we must protect those who dare to tell the truth.
In the interest in helping our great nation regain its footing and moral ground, we suggest the need stronger protections for whistleblowers. We ask all those who read this letter to support putting the protective legislation the Whistleblower Protection Act back in place and pass it so that we could have a truly open and legitimate discussion of what is wrong with our current system of protections for whistleblowers, healthcare and how to fix it. Most of all, we must never again find ourselves in circumstances that could have been prevented with something as simple as those who know the truth being able to share it, and for our government and its judicial limbs to protect and enforce it.
Murtagh, MD Co-chair IAW
McCray, Esq. Co-chair IAW
Whistleblower USDA, ACORN 8 National Spokesman
Wigand, Ph.D., MAT, Sc.D.
Rowley, FBI whistleblower
Time magazine person of the year
H. Holzrichter Sr. Ethictician Cofounder of the Mentor Initiative Project
TAF/IAW; Northrop litigation 1988-2005 recovered $138 million to the Fiscal
Chandler, PhD Cofounder of the TAF Mentoring Project,
Whistleblower of the Year, TAF -2007, Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision 2003
Concerned Citizens of Petersburg