We ask a lot of whistleblowers. We ask them to stand up for what's right, and to sacrifice much along the way. They risk losing their jobs, alienating their friends, family, and coworkers, face lawsuits and threats to their personal safety.
Wednesday night, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Participant Media presented a panel discussion about the importance of government and corporate whistleblowers. The headliners: Frank Serpico, who exposed corruption inside the New York Police Department in 1970 (and was unforgettably portrayed by Al Pacino in the eponymous film); and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, forever changing public opinion about the Vietnam War.
They were joined by more recent whistleblowers, including Kit Foshee, a former meat inspector who exposed that his company was adding ammonia to its ground beef, and Coleen Rowley, who called out the FBI's mishandling of early information it had about Zacarias Mossaoui. Many gave first-hand accounts of exposing corruption, lies and cover-ups, and how being a whistleblower has changed their lives. You can watch the entire panel discussion online .
And if you're a whistleblower-in-the-making, take heed of what Ellsberg had to say. Ellsberg now regrets going to Congress first and waiting 20 months for hearings that never happened. He now says he would've gone straight to press. He told the audience:
[What] I regret not doing…is putting out [the Pentagon Papers] when they were in my safe before the war started in 1964…Sen. Morse…told me later when [the Pentagon Papers] did come out: "If you had given me what was in your safe in '64, the Tonkin Gulf resolution would never have gone to a vote…and if it had gone to a vote, it would have been voted down." So that's a heavy burden to bear. What I tell officials now for the last number of years is, "Don't do what I did. Don't wait 'til the bombs are falling, don't wait til the war has started."
The ACLU's own Mike German — an FBI whistleblower himself — spoke about the need for federal whistleblower protection at the event. The ACLU has joined with GAP and 350 other organizations in the Make It Safe Coalition, which is working to strengthen whistleblower protections. Join us by going to whistleblower.org, where you can send a message to your senator telling them to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
Unless, of course, you like the taste of Mr. Clean in your burger.