xml:space="preserve">
tweet

I am FAKE NEWS!

I’ve committed TREASON and should be SHOT!

Advertisement

The best way to contact me is “throug (sic) the net work (sic) of effing used condoms floating in sewer piss.”

That’s according to strangers on Twitter and Facebook. Because, apparently, they know.

In real life, I’m not any of these things. I’m a whistleblower, one whose landmark case successfully set forth legal precedent under the Illinois State Officials Ethics Act. It was an eight-year battle that started because I refused to withhold from the media incriminating state documents about the president of Chicago State University, which had been legally requested under the Freedom of Information Act. I also reported unlawful state contracts to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. For doing so, I was fired, escorted off campus by State Troopers, and my office was cordoned off with crime scene tape. And I’m proud of that. Until recently, the majority of people I encountered considered this something to celebrate. Exactly zero people were trolling me on social media. But now, in this post-Trump-whistleblower era, everything has changed.

For the past month, I’ve been condensed to a one-word description, even among people who know me. Whistleblower. It’s no longer one of many things I've done, it’s become the public definition of who I am. I used to stand tall and smile when this happened. Now I wince a little and brace myself for what’s about to come: admiration or vitriol, in the extreme. Americans voraciously defend what we love and try to eradicate what we hate. Team Love and Team Hate. And when our chosen team is rooted in tribal politics and partisanship, there’s no longer room to budge. There is no even score, only evening the score.

Americans, unfortunately, have become normalized to a culture of retaliation. We’ve become a nasty nation, intolerant of dissent, a society that reduces insults to internet memes and gifs for amusement and approval. The more likes and reposts, the more successful the mockery. Yet we wonder why, and point fingers, when retaliation turns into retribution. Because if we didn’t personally pull the trigger, it’s not our fault. Right?

Don’t kid yourself. That’s just a convenient absolution for someone’s conscience, whether it applies to Facebook, the workplace or a Texas Wal-mart on a Saturday at 10:40 a.m.

Or a president tweeting at 1 a.m.

Donald Trump retaliates in plain sight. He hands out a blueprint of words and motives to follow. He didn’t start the culture of retaliation any more than he started racism, but he’s certainly stoking and highlighting it. He’s discouraging future whistleblowers and intimidating witnesses. This creates an intentional chilling effect. Mr. Trump is the poster child for where American society has landed today in relation to bullying, crassness, disrespect for others. But we need not give him the power and status of the originator.

In a nutshell, here’s what a whistleblower is supposed to do: gather the facts and documents accessible to them, to the best of their ability, and bring that information to the appropriate investigative body. That body, in a functional system, then does their job, which is to investigate the allegations and render a conclusion. It’s not the whistleblower’s job to produce an airtight case that’s ready for trial in a court of law. It’s more akin to waving the green flag to start the Indy 500 than waving the checkered flag to end it.

Innocent people involved in a whistleblower case cooperate with an investigation and let the process play out. People who are guilty stonewall and follow a classic retaliatory playbook. When accused of criminal acts, they deflect. They denounce the accuser as an even bigger criminal. (They’ve committed treason!) The guilty paint the accuser as professionally incompetent. (It’s hearsay, they don’t know anything, they aren’t qualified to make an accusation!) The guilty create the appearance of the accuser having a personal bias. (They’re a Democrat, and therefore not to be believed!) Worst of all, the guilty make the accuser fear for their personal safety. (Unmask and take care of them, like the old days!)

We’ll never fully return to a pre-Trump-whistleblower world. We can only strive to do better moving forward. Hopefully, America of the future will be a place where whistleblowers are safe, an America where we encourage the discouraged, protect the frightened, and in doing so, facilitate ethical behavior and accountability.

I'm going to close with a message for the trolls about to hate-post about how angry I am:

Bring it.

At least this time you'll be right.

Advertisement

James Charles Crowley is a lawyer and political commentator who gained prominence from his role in the 2014 whistleblower lawsuit against Chicago State University. He is currently working on a book about whistleblowing and ethics. Twitter: @JamesCharlesC.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement