During the Cold War, the dirty word at the time was “socialism.” The use of the word drew suspicious of anyone who was associated with it and made the populace suspicious of each other as dictated by their government officials. These days, socialism has been received more positively among the public, especially the youth, so it is not as damaging as before.
However, the same cannot be said about the term “whistleblower” in this day and age as it has overtaken socialism. The scapegoats for the government and the media have turned to whistleblowers for their contributions for the public. The difference is that the media has not been successful in forcing propaganda down the throats of individuals on “whistleblowers” as a majority of people believe, for example, that Snowden is a whistleblower rather than a traitor.
This is significant as whistleblowing had been scrutinized and argued against on behalf of the establishment. They are a disaster for those in Washington and whenever disasters erupt, panic fills the elite and they decide to use their means for damage control. Author Rebecca Solnit references the term “elite panic” for it in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, and references a quote by Caron Chess, a Rutgers University professor that helped coin the term with fellow professor Lee Clarke:
“The distinguishing thing about elite panic as compared to regular-people panic, is that what elites will panic about is the possibility that we will panic. It is simply, more prosaically more important when they panic because they’re in positions of influence, positions of power. They’re in positions where they can move resources around so they can keep information close to the vest.”
Whistleblowers strike fear in the elite as their legitimacy is put into question by the populace and, therefore, must react strategically before losing their hold. The Obama administration decided that the best course of action was to punish anyone who decides to be a whistleblower. Of course, this is indicative of an administration who decides to let a war criminal walk free, while putting someone who exposed war crimes on trial.
However, the argument doesn’t only mean whistleblowers against the government only, but of both government and big businesses.
Numerous states are passing or have passed anti-whistleblower laws or “ag-gag” laws that target anyone who speaks up on abuses at slaughterhouses or factories in the private industry. While such laws appeared in 1990 starting in Kansas, twelve states introduced bills to implement “ag-gag” laws last month. The rationale is simple:
States adopting ag-gag laws simply want to “silence whistleblowers,” according to Farm Forward, an Oregon-based group opposed to factory farms.
Take the case of Amy Meyer in Utah for example. After exposing the cruelty at the Smith Meatpacking Company with her cell phone on public grounds, she was arrested and had her charges dropped due to a vast media campaign. Utah, along with Iowa and Missouri, still has its “ag-gag” law in place however.
The extraordinary acts taken upon whistleblowers in both the public and private area would have been denounced by Barack Obama as evident through his ethics agenda on change.org (now unsurprisingly unavailable):
We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
What is significance is that the year Barack Obama first took office, two private sector whistleblowers came out to testify on behalf of the public against the illicit activities taking place in their industries.
Wendell Potter was “the head of corporate communications of CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest for-profit health insurance companies.” However, realizing that the industry he was in was profiting off the expense of other individuals, he deciding to leave the industry and work on behalf of the public. Currently, he works at Center for Media and Democracy against the PR that the health care industry that used to fight for.
John Kopchinski blew the whistle on Pfizer after they partook in illicit marketing for their drug Bextra, Zyvox, Lyrica and Geodon. He was later fired as he questioned the direction of such illegal activity, however, Pfizer had to pay a fine of $2.3 billion dollars as a result of a lawsuit because of Kopchinski’s testimony.
While they blew the whistle in private industries that emphasized profit, there is merit in having laws in place to defend federal whistleblowers where the revolving door between private industry and public service still exists. However, Barack Obama does uphold his promise as his “Insider Threat Program”, for instance, goes against everything he ran upon. It it is idiotic to consider whistleblowers in the Hobbesian view, when the fact remains that whistleblowers are “watchdogs” that correct a government for its lack of justice in equity.
The federal government can show its real reaction to federal whistleblowers that Glenn Greenwald excellently pointed out:
Ever since the Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst’s office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message. That attempt will undoubtedly be made here.
The fact that honesty is never pleasing to the ruling elite shows how much activism is necessary in our society. Such brutal acts done in the name of preserving the status quo are indicative of the character of such inequality that exists in the United States. Indeed, when threats are placed against the elites, they will ensure that they will do as much as they can to continue the status quo.
In 1918, this was evident as Eugene Debs, after meeting with his friends who were in jail for opposing the draft, stood across the street in front of the jail and spoke for an audience that was drawn to him for two hours. As a brilliant orator, Debs spoke on truths that are still relevant today as this quote excellently shows:
They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a tree and self-governing people. That is too much, even for a joke.. . . Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. . . -And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. . ..
He was arrested under the Espionage Act for fear that he would ”obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service” as “draft-age youths” were among his audience members. While found guilty by the jury, it did not deter Debs’ spirit at all while in prison.
The acts taken by the elite when they panic have not changed at all since Debs spoke to his audience. One of the dirty words of the early 20th century was a “radical” as seen through Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States:
The newspapers helped create an atmosphere of fear for possible opponents of the war. In April of 1917, theNew York Times quoted Elihu Root (former Secretary of War, a corporation lawyer) as saying: “We must have no criticism now.” A few months later it quoted him again that “there are men walking about the streets of this city tonight who ought to be taken out at sunrise tomorrow and shot for treason.” At the same time, Theodore Roosevelt was talking to the Harvard Club about Socialists, IWWs, and others who wanted peace as “a whole raft of sexless creatures.”
Elite panic will continue as evident through the Bradley Manning trial, for instance, and the numerous instances where it is reflective of how the Obama administration views this trial. The danger is how following administration will use this as the relationship between government and industry becomes stronger. Hopefully, as history shows, solidarity and action can go against such control by the elites.
People who demonize such dirty words are ignorant of what it stands for. When people had a witch-hunt over “communists”, they had difficulties comprehending what the term meant. The same is happening over the word whistleblower and thankfully it can be found in the Oxford dictionary:
A person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity.
And what’s so dirty about that?
Image by EFF under Creative Commons license