The Whistleblower Project

A collaboration between the Society of Professional Journalists and the Government Accountability Project

Introduction A Call to Action Whistleblower Basics Voices Best Practices 25 moments that changed history

Typical American Farmer Risks Career to Reveal Inhumane Conditions at Chicken Farms

By Lynn Walsh

Contents

Introduction

A Call to Action: Whistleblower Protection Legislation
If passed, these laws would help improve protection for whistleblowers.


Whistleblower Basics
The Law and Whistleblowing
Deciphering the laws dealing with whistleblowing is complicated, but we hope this will help.

Whistleblowers and Retaliation
Those who expose wrongdoing can face job loss, lawsuits or even prison.

Leaking vs. Whistleblowing
Can you spot the difference between a leaker and a whistleblower? It may be trickier than you think.

Nine Organizations That Work With and Help Whistleblowers

Best Practices for Journalists
Source Protection and Anonymity for Whistleblowers
In political journalism, there’s a debate over allowing sources to talk to you off the record, in order to keep the access pipeline flowing. Anonymity and the ethics of it can also be complicated in situations beyond scoring political points.

Whistleblowers and Reporters: Trust
Here are some best practices to follow when working with a whistleblower on a story.

Technology Can Help Whistleblowers Communicate Anonymously
The ways that reporters and whistleblowers communicate is evolving. The introduction of secure communications has become necessary as journalists try to protect their sources, all the while trying to guarantee the information is secure.

Anonymity: Not Always the Possible, Nor Always the Best, Strategy
Many whistleblowers want to disclose information about trouble in their workplaces while maintaining their anonymity. However, the vast majority of whistleblowers — more than 95 percent — try to solve their problems internally first.

When Working with Whistleblowers, Same Ethical Journalism Principles Apply
Government Accountability Project’s “Working with Whistleblowers: A Guide for Journalists” details best practices for working with whistleblowers.


Voices
Kathryn Foxhall: Good whistleblowing simply needs free speech
During the last 25 years it’s become an accepted norm for government, business, nonprofits and other organizations to prohibit employees to ever communicate with journalists without notifying and being overseen by the authorities, often public information officers. The restrictions are intense, highly effective censorship. The Society of Professional Journalists has made opposing them a priority.

Jesselyn Radack: Challenges in Defending National Security Whistleblowers
War crimes, mass surveillance, torture: some of the biggest stories in modern history relied on whistleblowers in national security and intelligence agencies. They came forward at great risk to expose the truth.

Nick Schwellenbach: The Modern Politics of American Whistleblowing
Insiders Valued More Highly in U.S. Society, But Still Face Perils.


25 times whistleblowers changed history

As a business chief underwriter for Citigroup during the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis, Richard Bowen repeatedly warned executive management and the board of directors that roughly 60 percent of prime mortgages were defective. Get the full details of Richard's story, along with 24 other times whistleblowers changed history.

Features
Mary Willingham: An Attempt To Make The College Athletic System Better For Athletes
Mary Willingham talks about why she spoke out about the treatment of college athletes at North Carolina and why — despite death threats from college sports enthusiasts — she would do it again.

Megan Wood: Reporting with Purpose
Megan Wood talks about why she looked into San Diego Christian College’s missing $20 million in expenses and how whistleblowers make a difference in their communities.

Richard Bowen: Blowing the Whistle on Defective Mortgages
While evaluating $90 billion of mortgages Citigroup was buying from Countrywide and other lenders, former Citigroup vice president Richard Bowen tried to warn company leaders and board members about the rise in defective mortgages. In 2010 he testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Here, in Bowen’s words, is what happened next.

Craig Watts: Typical American Farmer Risks Career to Reveal Inhumane Conditions at Chicken Farms
Craig Watts was a typical American farmer with three kids, two dogs, and a barn full of chickens. That all changed though when he decided to show the public the conditions chickens, sold by Perdue farms, were being raised in.


Credits
Meet the Project Team

Craig Watts was a typical American farmer with three kids, two dogs, and a barn full of chickens. That all changed though when he decided to show the public the conditions chickens, sold by Perdue farms, were being raised in. A New York Times Op-Ed detailed his concerns, and brought national attention to Perdue’s practices that were called inhumane and dangerous.

In an interview with the Society of Professional Journalists, Watts discusses his experience and what it is like to be a whistleblower.

Why did you come forward?

I was sitting in a hotel room in June of 2012 when a commercial for Perdue chicken came on TV. The head of the company says his daddy told him to treat people right and that the company is transparent. Then he walks in this chicken house and it is brand new, it is beautiful and everything was spotless. But, that is not what I saw.

I can tell you after I saw that commercial I could hardly sleep at night. Once we released that video I was expecting to get fired, yet it felt like the world got lifted off my shoulders.

What did you decide to do?

I did not know what to do. I knew, if what I saw everyday went out to the general public it would be a game changer. They had the nice red barn, white picket fence with a white chicken sitting on it in their commercials. But reality was they (chickens) were raised in filthy conditions. I felt the public needs to know about it. I am a farmer and at the end of the day I am working for the consumer.

At this same time I had been working with a reporter on a story about antibiotics in chicken feed and that’s when I was introduced to a woman, with Compassion in World Farming. She called me and asked if she could bring a filmmaker to a chicken farm and I said certainly. They came and I just let them film. Let them film it as it was. Let them see just what I saw everyday. It was filmed in May 2014 and was released in December 2014.

Did you ever contact Perdue about the farm conditions before the filming?

I went to the company before I went to Compassion Farmers. I went to company first but it fell on deaf ears. They generally did not respond to emails because it gave a written record. But, it bothered me that they were hoodwinking the consumers. This was basic stuff, they needed to come clean. If you are going to do something, be honest about it. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t honest.

What happened after the video went public?

I never ever felt threatened. I never was never threatened, They (Perdue) did put me on a performance improvement plan. It meant more scrutiny for a while but then miraculously it got lifted. After that I raised three more flocks and then I decided I was done. I sold some of my equipment because I knew financially we were going to take a hit. But, then I got an opportunity with SRAP (Socially Responsible Agricultural Project). It’s an anti-corporate, pro-family farm and sustainable farm organization. We do community organizing, panels focused on the pitfalls of contract farming and what the community can expect.

What advice do you have to others who may be thinking about blowing the whistle?

Everybody is different. But, if it is keeping you up at night you probably need to go public. Make sure you are emotionally prepared for what is going to happen. Where I made a mistake is not preparing for how financially taxing it would be to just walk away. But, from a mental standpoint it was amazing.

Would you do it again?

I can tell you after I saw that commercial I could hardly sleep at night. Once we released that video I was expecting to get fired, yet it felt like the world got lifted off my shoulders. I was described as a rogue farmer in the media but it is a lot easier to fix me than to fix the system. I would do it again.


Next: Meet the Project Team