We have made some progress in how we feel about whistleblowers. Perhaps it was the 9/11 wakeup call of how dangerous the world has become. Maybe we no longer trust the government to look out for us the way we think it should. Or maybe it is simply about corporate plunder and the ever-widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. Whatever it is, a new mindset is beginning to emerge — where getting involved is the right thing to do; where if you see something you actually ARE supposed to say something.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. Whistleblower retaliation is on the rise despite the greatly expanded legal protections that now exist for most whistleblowers. And it goes well beyond demotions, pay cuts, firings and estrangement to include harassment and even physical violence. Our 2013 Whistleblower of the Year, Taylor Radig, was even criminally charged and threatened with jail-time for her efforts at uncovering animal abuse at one Colorado factory farm.
Sadly it seems, that old school-yard “nobody likes a snitch” mentality has not fully released its tight grip, even among the most enlightened of us. Look no further than the recent opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus where she broad-swiped whistleblowers as having a “personality [that] is rarely an attractive one” and who “tend to be the difficult ones, the sort who tend to feel freer to speak out precisely because they don’t fit in.” Certainly not the most flattering or accurate portrayal of whistleblowers, nor the perception you would expect from such a highly regarded, liberal-minded award-winning journalist.
But an even more extreme (and shocking) example of the misguided view of whistleblowers that still infects the mainstream is how whistleblowers are depicted by Thesaurus.com and Merriam-Webster, the two leading resources for everything word-related. Of the thirty synonyms these publications provide to describe whistleblower, the vast majority of them are deeply derogatory and paint the whistleblower as dishonest, disloyal and driven by unsavory motives. Here is just a small sampling: Betrayer; Bigmouth; Busybody; Fat Mouth; Fink; Gossip; Rat; Rumormonger; Snitch; Squealer; Stool Pigeon; Tattletale; and Troublemaker. In maintaining this lexicon, these online publications — which collectively boast 90 million monthly visitors — are perpetuating the negative stereotype of whistleblowers, contributing to their continued persecution and mistreatment and providing a strong disincentive for others to step forward in the face of fraud or injustice.
Please help us change this archaic, fallacious and downright shameful portrayal of whistleblowers. Sign our petition on Change.org to Thesaurus.com and Merriam-Webster where we urge them to redraft their listings of whistleblower synonyms to more accurately reflect these brave and selfless souls who have risked so much to make this world a better, safer and more just place.
Please also provide in the comments section below the synonyms you believe best describe whistleblowers so we can guide these publications to the most appropriate selection of synonyms. Here are two possibilities to get the ball rolling: fraud-buster and watchdog. With your help, we can change the face of whistleblowers and hopefully bring them a bit more of the respect and recognition that still all too often escapes them. At the very least, we can join together in one strong voice and declare loud and clear that whistleblowers are not rats, finks, stoolies or snitches!
* * *If you would like more information or would like to speak to a member of Constantine Cannon’s whistleblower lawyer team, please click here.