The Three Whistleblowers

by Q

Cynthia Cooper, Sherron Watkins and Coleen Rowley have been chosen as Time Magazine’s People Of The Year. In case you haven’t heard, all three are whistleblowers. Cooper brought down Enron, Watkins toppled WorldCom and Rowley wrote the FBI memo that might have helped prevent the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Time has officially named them as heroes of a sort. But when I think of these women and what they did, why am I reminded of those telegrams they send to the family of a soldier who has died. Was being honored by Time their “you have the gratitude of a grateful nation” notice?

According to Time, these women “reminded us of what American courage and American values are all about.” But American Business rarely rewards people with courage and often shuns those with any sort of ethical values. They’re looking for business school clones that write good reports and lots of memos that make the corporation look good and don’t upset people. But most of all, they’re looking for people with loyalty. To most companies, loyalty is a thing that rises above all, including the truth. Head Hunters will tell you they are seeking self-starters and independent thinkers. But in corporate speak, that means people best able to deliver the goods using the corporation formula. If fraud is part of the corporate plan, then they expect their people to make happy talk and do the deed. That doesn‘t leave a lot of room for Nay Sayers or Whistleblowers, especially near the top!

Government employees are in the same boat. If we go back and look at the success that spies like Aldrich Ames had, we see a pattern of evidence ignored in favor of passing the buck elsewhere. If the FBI had a mole, they would point the spotlight on the CIA. If the CIA had a mole, they could always try and blame someone in the State Department. The number one priority wasn’t to locate the mole, but to deny that any sort of double agent or foreign operative could possibly be found in “our office.” The same can be said of playing the game of political correctness. No one wanted to be the first to embarrass or accuse Arabs that might be from nations somewhat friendly to the USA. Like Corporate America, “good news” and happy talk was all anyone in management wanted to hear. If you doubt the power of political correctness, just remember Linda Tripp.

Linda recorded a phone conversation that she had with Monica Lewinsky. Among other subjects discussed was Monica’s fling with then President Bill Clinton. While still a federal employee, Tripp reported the situation to authorities and the rest is history. One could argue all day about her motives and go crazy trying to get past Clinton’s double-speak on the issue, but one thing is clear. Linda Tripp was and still is being punished and castigated for doing what she felt was right in an environment of political correctness that clearly favored her opponents and enemies. There would be no Time Magazine glorification of her deed or talk about the courage and values that brought her to the decision to report what she felt might be a crime. Instead, she’ll probably spend the rest of her life paying for doing what she felt was right.

People with “American courage and American values” have a clear vision of what’s right and wrong and tend to let their conscience be their guide. For most corporations and, apparently the U.S. Government, this is not received as good news. Will corporations and government entities now think twice before promoting a worker who is courageous, ethical and just happens to be female? While all that is water under the bridge for Cooper, Watkins and Rowley, what will it mean to other women hoping to climb the corporate ladder? Without giving it much thought, have these heroes managed to replace the glass ceiling with one made of concrete?


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