Survival strategies for whistleblowers

Whistleblowers are people who tell it like it is, even if they suspect that they will lose their jobs and be attacked by people they consider to be friends. That is a high price to pay in order to live with themselves, but fortunately there are still people who value their integrity over public approval.

When I posted Advice for Whistleblowers in December 1983 2003, I was surprised by the number of blogging buddies who had also been whistleblowers and had been fired for their temerity in exposing wrongdoing. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, because bloggers, being citizen publishers, tend to tell it like it is.

As I mentioned in my original post, there is a strategy for whistleblowers that will allow them to emerge with sanity and reputation intact. Let me expand upon it in light of recent events:

1. Leave the organization under your own steam before you are sucked into participating in or concealing the wrongdoing.
2. Document everything very carefully.
3. Secure or develop a position of safety from which you can publicize the wrongdoing in the fullest detail possible.
4. Do not rely on the government or public opinion to protect you.
5. Publicize the wrongdoing using every channel available to you.
6. Go on with your life while continuing #5 until something is done to stop the wrongdoing. You will be attacked, so expect the worst and continue to flourish and prosper anyway.
7. Do not make the mistake of making your life revolve around #5. Vitriolic discourse is bad for your health. Get the truth out as calmly and determinedly as possible. Let the bad guys froth. You will live longer if you can find something to laugh about in this sorry situation.

Some whistle blowers are like Joe Darby, who exposed the premeditated violent crimes perpetrated in Abu Ghraib prison. He could not leave the organization he reported on and the "good ‘ol boys" in his hometown consider him a traitor. Fortunately for him, although his life is essentially destroyed, he and his family are living in protective custody.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on the other hand, were able to do all of the steps above and spoke about what they had observed only after they had marshaled their facts and were able to make their voices heard. They have been attacked personally in every way possible, but they continue to be heard because they did the above steps correctly. Gary Aldrich, a former FBI agent and whistleblower himself, wrote an article warning them of the consequences of their actions, however they continue to gain support.

C. Fred Alford has written a book Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power which appears to be quite pessimistic about the results of whistleblowing. I would tend to agree that whistleblowing is one case in which virtue does not protect you from the wrath of those you expose. You will retain sanity and reputation only by being very resolute in following the steps above.

Few people wish to be a whistleblower. If such a responsibility falls upon you, perhaps this advice will be of use.

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