Whistle-Blowing In An Age Of ‘Full Disclosure’

Whistle-Blowing

In An Age Of ‘Full Disclosure’

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The term whistle-blower, especially in the last decade, comes rife with negative connotations and feelings of chaos. It’s only in the past year that we’ve seen some sympathy towards Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, and NSA ‘rat,’ Edward Snowden, yet there remains a stigma attached, as the expression most definitely still equates to being a snitch.

The most recent horn tooter of note is Patricia Williams, a time share saleswoman who was just awarded $20 million after years of torment at the behest of former employers and wayward salesmen Wyndham Vacation Ownership.

Williams is the latest in a long string of workers who divulged nefarious working practices within their companies to the world and has — at least for a few years — suffered the considerable consequences of doing so. While Snowden resides in Russia avoiding the glare of the American government, Ms. Williams was pushed to the very margins of her society at home after ‘snitching’ on her firm. Her co-workers and former friends turned on her both in court and in her private life, and she was veritably living in poverty until the court finally granted her damages in the case.

These unpleasant side effects beg the question:
Is it really worth all the fuss?

Back in 2002 FBI agent Coleen Rowley came under very serious internal and external criticism for coming out against the agency’s inaction pre 9/11 when they had credible intelligence about one of the hijackers but didn’t pursue it. Rowley’s brave decision to call out her supervisors and top-level intelligence executives jeopardized her position within the agency until her allegations were proven and she was ultimately praised for her honesty and pursuit of the truth. Like Williams, she believed she would lose her job on account of the reveal. Unlike Williams, her investigation led to policy change and an in-depth analysis of counter-terrorism methods in the FBI which she would go on to help conduct and improve agency standards.

Another major corporate belly was pierced in 2003 when Cheryl Eckard came out against pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, where she was employed. After uncovering a series of medicinal miscalculations at one of their pill-producing plants in South America, she decided to speak up. She released her findings only to find herself, like Williams, out of a job and out in the cold.

After a long fought and invariably difficult court case, Eckard was awarded the significant sum of $96 million in damages and GSK were fined $750 million for its mismanagement of the Cidra plant. Pharmaceutical practices have been monitored more closely and consistently since the court’s findings procedure has tightened at the discretion of the FDA.

All whistle-blowing stories cannot, however, be expected to end in a fairy-tale-esque manner and such is the case of Karen Silkwood, who died mysteriously trying to expose malpractice within the oil industry, now 42 years ago. Meryl Streep famously played her character in a movie portrayal of Karen’s story and while the case was never officially solved, one can assume with a degree of authority that Karen’s devotion to exposing her bosses was the cause of her untimely death. Going up against major corporations is a dangerous and massively risky move.

Pharmaceuticals, oil, and intelligence sectors have decidedly shady pasts when it comes to how they deal with those people opposed to their practices. Indeed the most famous example of this is Edward Snowden, who awaits his uncertain fate in Russia, which is no doubt complicated by the incoming president’s friendly relationship with Mr. Putin.

Only today was there a call from 15 intelligence experts to Obama asking again for Snowden’s presidential pardon before he leaves the oval office. Were this to come, Snowden’s return to the U.S would become a landmark in whistleblowing history and would indeed finally dash the stigma and snitch connotations attached to the word.

Amy Corcoran

The Associate Editor of SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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