Whistle-blowing is sober business

Monday, April 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:47 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

I have been informed once again by several people that I am out of step with modern thinking, and I’m sure they are correct. I would not be telling the truth if I said I was sorry about that. It’s true that I find it absolutely mind-boggling the way many television reporters can talk about the findings of the Sept. 11 commission in one breath and launch into discussing the most recent episode of “The Sopranos” in the next. If I am the only person in America being driven crazy by this practice, then I think we are in really big trouble here.

OK, I don’t subscribe to HBO. I’ve never seen “The Sopranos.” So slap me with a wet noodle. Book me on the next flight to Mars. I take the Sept. 11 commission hearings seriously, and I don’t give television entertainment or sports contests that same priority. I appreciate the fact that some people do, and if the majority of Americans do, then I have no choice but to bow to the will of the people. However, I will still reserve the right to refuse to watch “The Sopranos,” and I will simply flip the switch on anyone attempting to tell me about them.

In regard to the controversy surrounding the hearings, I was relieved to hear the administration’s former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, say that he was prepared to endure the consequences resulting from his testimony and statements he made in his book, “Against All Enemies.” It makes me feel uncomfortable when I hear members of the public encourage others to “blow the whistle” on their employers or people in positions of power. Like most people, I think people should always tell the truth even when their truth differs from someone else’s. But I am not one of those who is naive enough to believe that where money and power are concerned, whistle blowing cannot be dangerous to one’s well-being.

It’s always my policy to think of the lessons being taught to schoolchildren in these kinds of situations. Goodness knows, it’s hard enough to be a kid if you are sensitive and all around you people are talking about terrorists and acts of terror that might possibly erupt at any time. People are constantly encouraging children to report violent behavior and the possession of weapons by other children to the proper authorities. In real life, people frequently retaliate against those whom they consider to be informers. So, is the world really a safe place for whistle-blowers, either adult or children?

Over the years, I’ve known a lot of people who worked in a variety of jobs, both in the public and the private sectors, who have admitted that they observed wrongdoing on the job but were unwilling to face the consequences of reporting it to their superiors. Very often politics in the workplace discourages people from acting on their observations. Only people who do not wish to be taken seriously would go on record to claim that everyone should be willing to risk job security to blab on their bosses. On the other hand, to suggest that one should not have to sacrifice her integrity to hold her job is an admirable position. In many cases, rightly or wrongly, people do sacrifice their integrity to hold their jobs and unless people are willing to support them and their families, they should withhold their condemnation until they are in that position.

So what should all this say to schoolchildren? It should say that although there are many dishonest people in the world, all people are not dishonest. And that in real life, each situation and circumstance has to be weighed on its merits. Some people feel, for reasons of their own, that they have personal knowledge that should be publicly revealed. Not all people feel that way. Some people have a strong sense of loyalty to their family, friends, co-workers and employers that would prevent them from ever speaking ill in their names. And consequently, there are good reasons to withhold judgment concerning other people’s behavior until all the facts are known.

Now, having said all that, I realize that we live in a world where many people are more interested in “reality TV” than they are in reality. Since politicians are aware of this, I’m sure many of them use this as an excuse to pay less attention to the public’s concerns. It once embarrassed me to think about how our attitudes must appear to people in other countries, like the times when people get outraged because breaking news interferes with their soap operas or ball games. Now that we have taken our culture “on the road,” so to speak, and spread it all over the world, I expect in many places they now behave in the same way.

In any case, I don’t expect television news reporting will change because of my views. Obviously, the bureau chiefs think that it’s fine for their reporters to share with viewers their prejudices against the French and others who refused to join the coalition to fight the war in Iraq.

Wonder where the school kids get all these terrible ideas such as hating people who are different or who think differently? Hmm...

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen

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