Every journalist who has ever worked with a whistleblower knows these are fraught relationships. The journalist wants the story. The whistleblower wants justice. Or, maybe revenge. Whistleblowers can be heroic, brilliant, paranoid or deceptive. Journalists can push for too hard for information that may not be in the interest of the whistleblower to share. Or, somebody makes a misstep and the whistleblower is exposed.

Still, the stories they produce are sometimes the best way to right a wrong. So, the NWC was happy to produce a list of tips for journalists working with whistleblowers. We also contributed to a compilation put together by the Journalist’s Resource, a Harvard project that aims to connect reporters with reliable sources of information.

For more on this topic, check out the upcoming Double Exposure film festival and symposium. A session on whistleblowing features Theranos whistleblower Erika Cheung.

The stakes are rising for whistleblowers across the globe. In the United States, whistleblowers are facing prosecution under the Espionage Act like never before, a charge that carries a potential life sentence for speaking up to expose wrongdoing. Elsewhere, whistleblowers face financial and professional ruin, smear campaigns and–in some countries–targeted assassination. What does this mean for the watchdogs in print and film?
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Search .edu sites for “whistleblower” and you get links to whistleblower reporting offices at universities. Search the academic literature and a robust body of whistleblower scholarship emerges.

For academics who want to add whistleblowing into their teaching, an Irish research team has set up a site to help. Led by Kate Kenny from NUI Galway, Ireland, the team offers videos, cases and slide shows. From their “Whistleblowing Impact” site.

We aim to change the terms of public debate on whistleblowing. There exists a persistent contradiction in how whistleblowers are perceived; on the one hand, they are acknowledged as a vital way in which corruption comes to light and yet, society does little to support the real-life struggles of the many whistleblowers who find themselves without a source of income and little prospect of finding work in their chosen career.

Our results provide empirical evidence that invites rethinking how we see and value whistleblowers, and how we can support them. Specific research questions included: 1) What are the costs of whistleblowing for those who leave their organization, both tangible and intangible? 2) What interventions can be developed that will provide support?, and 3) How can whistleblowing be reconceptualized in ways that emphasize the necessity of material and symbolic supports from society?


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Bulletproof vests that don’t work. Russian money laundering. US tax cheats with Swiss bank accounts. No-bid, sweetheart government contracts.

Once a year, whistleblowers and their supporters gather to remind each other why they risked so much to expose wrongdoing. This year’s National Whistleblower Day event will be Tuesday, July 30. It will be broadcast live from Capitol Hill on Facebook. It is one of several events and panels underway this week as part of the annual Whistleblower Summit.

From the National Whistleblower Center:

National Whistleblower Day will commemorate the 241st anniversary of America’s first whistleblower law, and celebrate the contributions of whistleblowers to democracy.The event will feature speakers including whistleblowers, lawmakers, and other public officials.

More from the NWC on some of the speakers, with video from past events:


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Nader in 2008

Scientific whistleblowers include drug reviewers, medical researchers, quality control monitors, and engineers. The recent emergence of Boeing whistleblowers demonstrates that we need more of the latter, says Ralph Nader. The legendary consumer advocate and founder of the consumer protection group Public Citizen writes in Scientific American that engineers are “often the first to notice waste, fraud and safety issues.”

Compared to the technologically stagnant dark days in the auto industry of cruel suppression of technical dissent over safety and toxic emissions … today’s engineers are working in an improved environment for taking their conscience to work. Yet much more remains to be done to safeguard the ability of engineers to speak truth to the powers-that-be.


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4/23 update:The LA Times has dug into the California Air National Guard scandal.

Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, The Times has found.

The paper’s reporters found workers allege retaliation against whistleblowers and a failure of the Guard’s to protect them.

“When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation,” said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. “It’s meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they’re going to make you pay for it.”

From 4/15: After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.

From the LA Times on this military whistleblower case: 

In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.


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They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. When information about corruption or other wrongdoing comes to light, that transparency results in accountability, both against those who are culpable and for those affected by it. Whistleblowers are the ones with that crucial information.

Maya Efrati head shot
Maya Efrati, National Whistleblower Center

Whistleblowers are people who bravely come forward with information about fraud, corruption, and other criminal behavior. A whistleblower may be anyone from an employee at a company who comes across fraud to a government employee who sees the law being disregarded and rights trampled to a member of an impacted community whose family is affected by environmental catastrophe because of negligence in the race for profit.

Despite enormous personal and professional risks, they bring to light what would otherwise remain hidden. Often, those who blow the whistle on wrongdoing are disparaged and retaliated against for their actions. Even still, they report such crime knowing they may lose their jobs and income, only to face a negative social stigma while fighting an uphill battle. For the sake of truth and transparency, they are willing to come forward, to step up, and to disclose what they know.

But at present our society does not honor whistleblowers, and because of that we don’t encourage them to step forward.
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Rep. Maxine Waters issued an open letter to potential whistleblowers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) late last week.The California Democrat’s letter was addressed to agency employees who witness waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement. It asks that they “please do not hesitate to alert me and my staff” if they witness any such bureaucratic misconduct. Her action was in response to reports of low morale at the agency.

CFPB logoIn a Monday Washington Post column about Waters’ letter, Stephen M. Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, agreed —  with a caveat: “Whistleblowers are protected by federal law . . . Given the problems with federal whistleblower protection, we recommend that any whistleblower approaching Congress ensure that they can maintain anonymity.” He’s also noted that the system does not offer federal employees rewards, and access to federal court jury trials is limited. In addition, the WPA does not apply to intelligence and national security agencies. 
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“Roan @ The Gates” is new play about a whistleblower and how her actions impact her marriage. The play just ended a run at Luna Stage in West Orange, New Jersey

Outspoken civil rights attorney Nat and her NSA analyst wife Roan seem to have it all together. But when their personal life collides with national security, it launches a beautiful, high-stakes adventure that illuminates the cost of secrecy.

In the real world, whistleblowers were credited last week with reporting concerns to Congress about a White House plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.


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The 90th Academy Awards yesterday featured a diverse set of films nominated for Best Picture, including a whistleblower film called The Post. Based on a true story, the movie centers on the fight to publish top-secret U.S. government information on the Vietnam War leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The star-studded cast includes Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

In the spirit of The Posts’ Oscar recognition, here are some other riveting whistleblower films that you can enjoy on the big screen.


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Picture this: while at work you become aware of conduct that you believe is unethical, illegal, or qualifies as government waste, fraud, or abuse. You decide you want to blow the whistle. But before you act, be careful! Most corporate and government networks log traffic. Your work computer and phone are not private. When you use a company or department computer, assume everything you do is monitored. These computers are an easy way for your employer to determine you are the whistleblower.

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