“That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any person in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
Resolution of the U.S. Continental Congress
Unanimously passed July 30, 1778
Labels are often used to dismiss rather than define those with alternative explanations of events to the general mainstream narrative. One example is the label of “conspiracy theorists.” As Jim Rankin notes in his doctoral dissertation “The Conspiracy Theory Meme as a Tool for Cultural Hegemony,” the conspiracy theory concept “functions as an impediment to legitimate discursive examination of conspiracy suspicions.” As Rankin observes, the label appears to constrain even the most respected thinkers. In effect, the “conspiracy theorist” label operates as a powerful tool of cultural control.
A similar dismissive label might also apply to those labeled “whistleblowers” who also offer alternative explanations to a general narrative. But whistleblowers go beyond simply offering alternative narratives. Rather, they report things they have seen first-hand from their positions inside organizations. As defined by the National Whistleblowing Center (NWC) “a whistleblower is someone who reports waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, or dangers to public health and safety to someone who is in the position to rectify the wrongdoing. A whistleblower typically works inside of the organization where the wrongdoing is taking place.” However, the NWC notes that being an “insider” is not essential to serving as a whistleblower. “What matters is that the individual discloses information about wrongdoing that otherwise would not be known.”
Despite the derogatory and dismissive labels given whistleblowers by the organizations they are reporting on, they have often been portrayed as heroes in popular culture and particularly films. The list of award-winning Hollywood films about whistleblowers is long and contains some of Hollywood’s greatest films such as On the Waterfront (1954), Serpico (1973), All the President’s Men (1976), The China Syndrome (1979), Silkwood (1983), The Firm (1993), Erin Brockovich (2000), Michael Clayton (2007) and Spotlight (2015) among others. All of these involve the exposure of some form of corruption by a whistleblower coming forward.
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The NWC is the leading nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to protecting and rewarding whistleblowers. They provide legal assistance to whistleblowers, advocate for stronger whistleblower protection laws, and educate the public about whistleblowers’ critical role in protecting democracy and the rule of law. Their mission is to support whistleblowers in their efforts to expose and help prosecute corruption and other wrongdoing.
Founded in 1988 by three attorneys, the NWC’s immediate goal was to obtain public support for whistleblowers at the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant. The NWC’s first case challenged an industry-wide practice of coercing employees to sign non-disclosure agreements prohibiting them from raising safety concerns to federal regulators. The whistleblower group overcame well-financed opposition in the nuclear industry and the precedents set were groundbreaking such as voiding all “hush money” agreements. Years later, these precedents were relied on by attorneys with NWC to obtain a historic ruling by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) banning restrictive non-disclosure agreements in corporate America.
Since then, with the help of our hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters, NWC has succeeded in establishing National Whistleblower Day and adding key whistleblower protections into the Dodd-Frank qui tam law, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, and numerous other federal laws. NWC has also set major legal precedents not only in banning restrictive non-disclosure agreements in all publicly traded companies, but also in establishing First Amendment rights for federal workers, expanding the scope of protected activities, and protecting qui tam laws.
Through NWC’s Legal Assistance Program, the organization continues its efforts to defend whistleblowers by educating whistleblowers about their rights under law, assisting in finding them premiere legal assistance and providing support during high-impact whistleblower litigation. To further provide services and legal assistance to whistleblowers around the world, NWC has partnered with the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund (NWLDEF), a public interest law firm.
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Beginning in 2007, whistleblowers and advocates have convened an annual conference on Capitol Hill. It was originally known as Washington Whistleblower’s Week to draw attention to advocacy and build a sense of community and solidarity. The week-long event features plenary sessions, workshops and panel discussions, whistleblower book signings, film screenings, National Whistleblower Day Senate Luncheon, Awards Reception, Pillar Awards Presentations, and Whistleblower Solidarity Dinner. From this, an unlikely community has been established between whistleblowers and activists.
In 2013, the Senate, led by Sen. Charles Grassley, unanimously passed a resolution honoring “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day” on July 30th to commemorate the enactment of the law. The first Congressional celebration of National Whistleblower Day took place in the U.S. Senate Kennedy Caucus Room on July 30th, 2015. For the first time, the 2021 National Whistleblower Day events will be an interactive virtual conference.
There will be panels and discussion forums as well as a virtual film festival titled “Celluloid Justice: The Greatest Whistleblower Films Ever Conceived.” This will feature five Hollywood films. But in addition, there will be many films by small, independent filmmakers. As organizer of the film festival – Cesareo Manansala – observes, “For nearly a decade, the Whistleblower Summit has spearheaded our movement via films, by big or small screen storytelling. It is our intention to shine light on the tales of courage as seen through the eyes of these whistleblowers. Through the Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival (WSFF), we promote original pictures that depict the real stories behind the whistleblowers, and the efforts they took to expose their group’s mis-directions. Our events also provide a forum for the whistleblowers themselves and the filmmakers behind the pictures, to share their experiences with both audiences and members of the press for even further widespread awareness.”
John Fraim is founder of the website Midnight Oil Studios at https://midnightoilstudios.org. He will be on one of the panels at the Whistleblower Summit this year. The Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival is July 23 – August 1. Visit their site for more information at https://www.whistleblowersummit.com. For information on the National Whistleblower’s Center see https://www.whistleblowers.org.
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