Monthly Archives: April 2013

New documentary highlights growing risks to whistleblowers

Courtesy of the filmmakers

Earlier this week, my friend Tom Devine invited me to a special screening of the new documentary, “War on Whistleblowers,” at the Newsmuseum. Tom is the legal director at the Government Accountability Project, a group that has represented hundreds of people in over the last few decades who have exposed criminal behavior and other wrong-doing by their employers, often at great personal cost.

The 1-hour program doesn’t include cases of environmental malfeasants but Tom can be heard in voiceover at the start of the film talking about the persecution faced by historic figures like Copernicus and Galileo for pointing out truths that seem so obvious to us today–such things as the fact that world really isn’t flat. While those two Renaissance-era gentleman may have risked even more, the ire they evoked for speaking truth to power seem generally similar to the attacks weathered by Michael Mann and other scientists for sounding alarm bells about climate change.

The film also touches on another topic that comes up frequently on this blog: how corporations that partner with public entities tend to call the shots in those relationships, often at the detriment of the public good.

The film interviews Franz Gayl, a Pentagon science adviser for the Marine Corp who blew the lid off the Marine’s failure to provide troops in Iraq with life-saving armored vehicles. The backstory: the corporate lobbying power behind the Humvee was simply greater than that of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, though the MRAPs, as they are called, have proven much safer. The program also features Michael DeKort, a Lockheed Martin project manager who exposed design and other failures in a new fleet of ships for the U.S. Coast Guard; he fear he problems could lead to avoidable deaths at sea. Both men first tried to bring their concerns to the companies and government agencies involved before going public. DeKort ended up out of a job and Gayl nearly suffered the same fate until a public campaign drew national attention to his plight.

That scenario — in which corporate interests and profit margins trump other concerns, even loss of life — is one that plays out in the corporate sustainability realm, as well. Many of the world’s largest corporations have  struck up partnerships and sponsorship deals with environmental groups. The millions of dollars big companies channel to environmental organizations each year amount to a tiny fraction of their revenues (much less than they spend, say, on advertising), but it’s an increasingly large part of the annual operating budgets of many nonprofit groups. The cash not only buys the companies invaluable greenwash cover, it has misdirected some of the world’s largest and most respected environmental groups from their original mission, turning them into corporate mascots instead of the watchdogs of public good. If you want details, read my book or check out the articles on this site’s “about” page.

But getting back to the whistleblower documentary, the very cool thing is this: The producers will send you a copy for free so that people around the country can hold house parties and otherwise share with friends and neighbors. Click here for the details.