In Praise of Whistleblowers

Julian Assange. The “true” Afghan War was not for us to see, but the truth will out, at least in this case, as total defeat in war is hard to hide

W.J. Astore

Edward Snowden. Daniel Hale. Chelsea Manning. Julian Assange. And of course Daniel Ellsberg. These and other whistleblowers courageously spoke out to reveal the lies the government feeds us to keep us pacified and compliant.

What do whistleblowers do? Some might say they speak truth to power. But power already knows the truth, indeed the powerful manufacture the truth, and they like their near-monopoly on truth and its creation and distribution.

What whistleblowers really do is speak truth to the powerless. They speak truth to us, and their version of the truth is one that reveals the manipulation and mendacity of the powerful. It exposes power to the light, revealing the rot, the greed, the lies, and for this act of defiance and of patriotism, the whistleblower must be punished.

Snowden was forced into exile in Russia. Hale was recently imprisoned for up to four years. Manning spent years in prison under humiliating conditions that included solitary confinement. Assange is still in prison, and the U.S. government still seeks to extradite him and punish him under an espionage act that shouldn’t even apply to a citizen of another country (not to mention a journalist who should be protected in a democracy that allegedly reveres the freedom of the press).

It’s not that the American people can’t handle the truth, to cite the words of Colonel Jessup as played by Jack Nicholson. It’s that the American people can handle the truth, that the truth would empower us while weakening the powers-that-be and their various plots and privileges. That’s why the truth is such a scarce commodity in Washington, D.C. It must be guarded while being massaged and manipulated before its fed to the masses as formless, often truthless, pabulum.

America’s punishment of principled whistleblowers is yet another sign of the death of democracy in America. If President Biden wanted to do something important, something inspiring, something meaningful, he’d permit Snowden to return with no charges, he’d pardon Hale, and he’d stop pursuing the extradition of Assange. But Biden will do none of these. Whistleblowers must be persecuted, must be punished, not because they’ve done something wrong, but because they’ve done something right, something that embarrasses the powerful. And that simply cannot be tolerated.

After all, if Americans in positions to know start speaking the truth to their fellow Americans, where will that end? We might see a resurgence of accountability, of justice, even of democracy in America. And we can’t have that.

Addendum: For a terrific book on whistleblowing that will make you angry indeed, check out Tom Mueller’s “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing In An Age of Fraud” (New York, Riverhead Books, 2019).

14 thoughts on “In Praise of Whistleblowers

  1. ……..and punish him under an espionage act that shouldn’t even apply to a citizen of another country…..
    That the Australian government is powerless to free Assange and extradite him back to his country of birth is the most perplexing aspect. The Aussies are gutless bastads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “… should not apply …”? Um, try “does not apply.” Clear case where the law does not constrain the government when it’s inconvenient to obvious motives.


      1. True. The law doesn’t apply to the powerful. Or they simply remake the law in their favor.

        America is supposed to be a land of laws where justice is blind. That this is now laughable is another sign of the death of democratic ideals.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. The nuclear submarines and the Assange case are demonstrative of the sickness of the current Australian political elite Bill. I bet if there was a referendum the Aussie people would overwhelming vote to free Assange and dump the ridiculous submarine deal. Australia needs nuclear submarines like it needs a hole in its head. The trouble is, that like the US, Australia is not a true democracy.

      As for Assange….The Speedy Trial Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. ……..I guess as a non-US citizen the Sixth Amendment does not apply eh?

      The imprisonment of Assange has got to be the crime of the century. Every citizen of the free World should be ashamed of the way Julian is being treated.


  2. Frank Serpico of the NYPD always preferred the term “Lamplighters” over Whistleblowers in his shining the light on the Corruption of New York’s finest in the Seventies. Maybe shining Lady Liberty’s Lamp on these Institutions will restore our Democracy..!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. From Caitlin Johnstone: “It sure is a strange coincidence how all the US government’s grave concerns about Julian Assange endangering national security all manifested in ways that just so happen to look exactly the same as the world’s most powerful government persecuting a journalist for telling the truth.”


  4. An excellent essay, in particular “…power already knows the truth, indeed the powerful manufacture the truth, and they like their near-monopoly on truth and its creation and distribution…What whistleblowers really do is speak truth to the powerless”.

    Liked by 1 person

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