Unamerican. Spy. Traitor.
Edward Snowden’s name brings these words to mind for many Americans. The former NSA contractor has become a household name for his role as a global surveillance whistleblower, and reintroduced many Americans to the concept of whistleblowing. While many dispute the legitimacy of whistleblowing, it remains a vital sources of material for the media.
However, it seems that whistleblowing was under attack by former President Obama, who prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other administration under the Espionage Act of 1917. Now, President Trump seems to be at war with whistleblowers. This begs the question: can the relationship between whistleblowers and media continue to thrive in 2017 and beyond?
The media has long stood as a check on government and the political elite. But sometimes journalists can’t do it alone.
Dating back at least to 1777, when Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven exposed to the press that British prisoners of war were tortured, the media has understood that whistleblowers provide a valuable source of information to reveal the truth. The whistleblower protection laws that followed this incident seemed to solidify the relationship between media and whistleblowers for generations to come.
However, in present day, whistleblowers seem to be in great jeopardy.
Two days after Trump was elected president, a series of gag orders were put in place that violate the Whistleblower Protection Act by failing to include a qualifier for whistleblower and related laws in their nondisclosure policies. These impacted the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior and Health and Human Services.
Additionally, another decision that has some Americans worried is the halt on regulation permitting civil penalties against federal nuclear contractors that retaliate against whistleblowers. This regulation was enacted by the Obama administration to protect, keeping President Trump’s “plan for managing the Federal regulatory process at the outset of the new Administration.”
This worries whistleblower advocates like Lydia Dennett, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight.
“There is already a chilled atmosphere for DOE whistleblowers, and the rule that has now been stayed was meant to help address that problem,” Dennett said. “Halting the regulation from going forward does nothing to help the department and certainly will not encourage whistleblowers to come forward with legitimate safety concerns.”
With a decline in investigative journalists, whistleblowers give media inside information that is vital to informing Americans of the truth. And now, the information is prevented from reaching the light of day.
Media have always been the watchdogs of American government. Can we really stand by and let one of its greatest sources be scared into submission?