The New Yorker uses the publication of Edward Snowden’s new memoir as an opportunity to explore the state of whistleblowing. Jill Lepore offers this take on what it means that more insiders are coming forwards with evidence of wrongdoing.
Whistle-blowing is very often an upstanding act of courage, undertaken at great personal cost, and resulting in great public good. But the presence of a lot of whistle-blowing—an age of whistle-blowing—isn’t a sign of a thriving democracy or a healthy business world; it’s a sign of a weak democracy and a sick business world. When institutions are working well, either they don’t engage in misconduct or their internal mechanisms discover, thwart, and punish it. Democracies have checks and balances, including investigations, ethics committees, and elections. Businesses have regulations, compliance departments, and inspections. Whistle-blowing is necessary when these safeguards fail. But to celebrate whistle-blowing as anything other than a last resort is to give up on institutions.