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

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
Physicist Aldric Saucier blew the whistle on gross mismanagement and waste of funds associated with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), otherwise known as the Star Wars program. Get the full details of Aldric'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

Ever since the Trump administration took office last year, reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico and many other news organizations have been reporting on the inner workings of the federal government. Citing anonymous and named government sources, they report on political turmoil within the White House, new policy decisions, executive orders, possible civil rights violations, scientific censorship and classified information surrounding Russia’s influence over the 2016 election.

Journalists have a long history of working with their sources to reveal essential public information and informing the citizenry. A free press is one of the cornerstones of American democracy, after all. But when government officials attack reporters or their sources and try to control the exposure of the truth, power is taken away from the citizens and that pillar of democracy crumbles.

In August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice’s efforts to crack down on intelligence officers who reveal classified information to the public and the media organizations that report it. This included the possibility of implementing new subpoena powers, forcing journalists to give up their sources or risk facing jail time.

“We are taking a stand. This culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said. “I have this warning for would-be leakers: Don’t do it.”

Perhaps the policy to crack down on leakers and whistleblowers came from his boss, President Donald Trump, who has a history of raging on Twitter against government “leakers” who paint him and his administration in an unflattering light. Or perhaps it’s a continuance of the previous administration led by former President Barack Obama, which arrested eight of the 13 people who have ever been prosecuted for leaking secrets under the Espionage Act, according to The Washington Post.

There is a difference between whistleblowers and leakers — two terms that are often used interchangeably as a way of discrediting the source of potentially-damning information. Leakers release information about the inner workings of the government agency or corporation they work for, often for political gain, to curry favor, or to test policies; Whistleblowers are workers who release information that shows serious wrongdoing, mismanagement, waste or other abuses of public trust.

When government officials attack reporters or their sources and try to control the exposure of the truth, power is taken away from the citizens and that pillar of democracy crumbles.

Both are essential for a democracy with an informed citizenry.

While whistleblowers are, in most cases, protected by law from retaliation, they are often risking their lives and careers by releasing such information. Blowing the whistle takes courage and conviction and is one of the purest examples of putting your country before yourself.

The Society of Professional Journalists and the Government Accountability Project have teamed up with several other whistleblowing and media organizations to inform journalists on how they can safely work with whistleblowers, and have created a comprehensive case for why those brave workers who risk everything should be praised and better protected.

Read and listen to the stories of whistleblowers who have helped shed light on corruption, government waste, and injustice, as well as the reporters who work with them. Learn how these essential public servants are currently protected by a patchwork of laws but are still vulnerable to reprisal. Most of all, become an ally, ensuring that whistleblowers and the journalists who work with them are protected and supported.


Next: A Call to Action: Whistleblower Protection Legislation