Whistleblower Week!

Last week was a hell of a week for whistleblowers! A banner week … unless it was you in their line of fire, you a target of their ire.

Are there more now than there used to be – or am I imagining it? Imaging more whistleblowers coming out of the woodwork. Imagining more good followers daring to speak out against more bad leaders. Imaging more apparently ordinary people willing to take the risk of speaking up and speaking out.

Of course, not every whistleblower is justified. Every now and then whistleblowers blow for insufficient reason. But in the main they are women and men who risk being professionally and sometimes even personally crucified for daring to speak truth not to power, but about power.

Last week’s single most striking whistleblower – she got an enormous media attention – was of course Frances Haugen. Haugen pulled the plug, or tried her level best to, on Facebook. Specifically on her erstwhile leader, her erstwhile employer, Mark Zuckerberg. Haugen shared documents with the Wall Street Journal, and with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and with Congress that, she claimed, were proof Facebook prioritized profits over people.   

Not quite as attention-getting but a very, very big story nonetheless was the release of the so-called Pandora Papers. What are they? They are nearly 12 million documents leaked by good followers to reveal for the world to see the greed, the legalized corruption, of bad leaders. These followers mainly are journalists; and these leaders mainly are top dogs including former and current presidents and prime ministers. I should add we’re not talking here garden variety corruption. We’re talking corruption on what Brooke Harrington, writing in the New York Times, described as being on “an almost unimaginably vast scale.”

Finally – for now – the women of the National Women’s Soccer League who put on public display their simmering rage at the imbalance of power. It is the women obviously who play they game. But they are powerless. Specifically, they are powerless against the men, the team owners, the executives, and the coaches, all of whom are powerful. The men control the game, and the men control the money. Hence the men control the women. Last week the women decided they had had it. They were fed up. On Wednesday night they halted several games at the six-minute mark, so they could stand together, arms linked, in silent protest. “We have hit rock bottom and we are going to fight as hard as we need to, as hard as we can, for everything we deserve and need,” said one of the players. “We won’t be silent anymore.”  

In Monday’s post I juxtaposed whistleblowers against enablers. Enablers I described as “followers who allow or even encourage their leaders to engage in, and then to persist in, behaviors that are destructive.” * Whistleblowers, in contrast, are “followers who try to stop their leaders from being bad by publicly exposing their noxious – as in illegal, or abusive, or unsafe – behaviors.” Which raises the question of what motivates whistleblowers? What makes the powerless risk taking on the powerful? Haugen reportedly decided to go public, to blow the whistle, only in September. She explained her decision this way: “I just don’t want to agonize over what I didn’t do for the rest of my life. Compared to that, anything else just doesn’t seem that bad.”   

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*The definition of enabler is from my latest book, The Enablers: How Team Trump Flunked the Pandemic and Failed America (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

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