Brave Whistleblowers Are Being Punished For Saving Lives During A Pandemic

from the whistleblowing-saves-lives dept

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of whistleblowers to a free and unfettered press. Throughout this emergency, it has been whistleblowers playing a critical role in informing the general public and forcing governments to make important public health decisions. And it has been whistleblowers that have pierced the will of governments around the world who have tried to downplay the significance of the threat facing their citizens.

In China, where the virus is believed to have originated, the government’s “fail-safe” system for spotting contagious outbreaks failed to pick up the new illness, reportedly because local officials withheld information for political reasons. Instead, central health authorities learned about the outbreak when whistleblowers leaked internal local government documents.

These documents emerged alongside observations from Dr. Li Wenliang, widely known as “the whistleblower doctor,” who warned colleagues about new patterns of illness in WhatsApp messages now credited with raising the alarm about the new virus. He was detained and forced to confess to spreading false rumors in January, and was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, leading to his death in February. The Chinese government faced massive online backlash for its handling of the Li case, and has subsequently attempted to reclaim him as a national hero.

In the United States, where the official response has been fractured and at times incoherent, whistleblowers have played a key role in escalating issues within the government and to the press.

It was reported in February that U.S. health workers were given neither special training nor protective gear when handling Americans who were in quarantine on Air Force bases after being evacuated from coronavirus hot zones. The information underlying that reporting came from a whistleblower report shared with Congress and obtained by media outlets.

That person’s identity is not publicly known, and members of Congress have reported that she has been subjected to professional retaliation.

In the Navy, leadership was not taking adequate steps to protect its sailors from contracting and spreading coronavirus, according to a letter sent from aircraft carrier captain Brett Crozier to his superiors. The letter described conditions on the U.S.S. Roosevelt, which Crozier led, as it was ravaged by coronavirus. It was sent to multiple recipients through unclassified channels, which Navy officials said could encourage it to be leaked ? as it ultimately was, to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Although the Navy has not publicly named a suspect for that leak, it fired Captain Crozier for his role in its release. (Crozier later tested positive for coronavirus as well.) The Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, flew to Guam to address the crew of that ship in a profanity-laden tirade that included a warning not to consider acts of whistleblowing in the public interest. In particular, Modly’s address included the lines:

There is no, no situation where you go to the media. Because the media has an agenda and the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit and I’m sorry that’s the way the country is now, but it’s the truth and they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy.

His admonition against leaking was apparently ineffective, as audio and transcripts from his speech were released to multiple outlets immediately. Modly initially defended his remarks, but has since stepped down from his post.

Some of the most shocking stories about the disarray in the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak have concerned the shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, used every day in medical settings. The reasons for the shortages are varied ? ranging from an insufficient national stockpile to the absence of a strategy for coordinating supplies between states ? but reporting on the shortages has likely made a significant difference in spurring action to remedy those problems.

Some hospital administrators, however, have been openly hostile in their response to that reporting. In fact, at many hospitals around the country, doctors and nurses have been told that they could be fired for speaking with the media about the lack of PPE available to them. As the New York Times reported, in ?the epicenter of the crisis in the United States, every major private hospital system has sent memos in recent weeks ordering workers not to speak with the media, as have some public hospitals.? Several nurses and doctors in the U.S. have already been suspended or fired for posting on Facebook about PPE shortages, protesting the shortages, or talking to the media about them.

These examples show courageous individuals going out of their way to correct the wrongs they’ve observed. In many cases, these are people who are already putting their life on the line for public health, taking extra steps to fight for the truth. That impulse should be rewarded, and at times governments have pursued that ideal, through legislative efforts to protect whistleblowers, or even reward them for their service.

Unfortunately, at the highest levels of the U.S. government, the impulse to root out corruption and inform the people has instead been punished at every turn. Most recently, this can be seen in the Trump administration’s decision to fire the intelligence community inspector general responsible for fielding the whistleblower complaint that led to President Trump’s impeachment last year.

Under any circumstances, that willingness to engage in political retribution and retaliation against a whistleblower would be cause for concern. But during a global pandemic, where a clear view of the facts as they are is of paramount concern, it may truly be a question of life and death.

Republished from the Freedom of the Press Foundation blog.

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Comments on “Brave Whistleblowers Are Being Punished For Saving Lives During A Pandemic”

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Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

China Backgrounder

Some good details on what happened in China in this “101 East” report from Al Jazeera.

Oh, and now Trump is making noises about wanting to fire Anthony Fauci. Seems he can’t stand to have anybody competent around him, simply because they make him look bad.

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Bobvious says:

Re: China Backgrounder

I feel for Dr. Fauci. Can you imagine being the only adult in the room, being unable to say what needs to be said, knowing that your boss thinks that this is all just another episode of "The Apprentice".

It seems like the White House approach is to centralise all the necessary medical equipment by intercepting state orders, then claiming the glory for the supply, but doling it out depending on whether the state, region, or city, was red or blue at the election.

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David says:

Re: Re: Re: China Backgrounder

Fauci doesn’t know what he’s talking about obviously to some people.

Well, the truth. I think he knows that. What he doesn’t understand apparently is that the truth as a rather important resource in the current times has been strictly rationed and earmarked for the highest levels, and he’s doling it out like candy.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Integrity in Politics, seriously not joking

Oh, to find a way to put people in government positions with the character to own up to their mistakes, even publicly, at the time they find out that a mistake was made and have no thought of retribution for those who bring forth the facts. That brings to mind the idea of not letting anyone who wants to be in politics, be in politics. Now how do we get that started?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Integrity in Politics, seriously not joking

A lottery is not an entirely terrible idea. There would have to be some limits though. Reading comprehension (not that our current lawmakers read the bills they vote on) some math competency (not that our lawmakers comprehend how long it will take to pay off the national debt), and we should probably screen for sociopaths (which would eliminate most CEO’s, aspiring CEO’s and probably a large portion of the so called 1%).

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Integrity in Politics, seriously not joking

I’m always leery of suggestions that we institute tests for fitness before allowing people to participate in democracy.

There’s a reason we banned literacy tests for voting: they were used to disenfranchise black people.

Who writes the tests? Who scores them? What biases do they have? Those are questions that would need to be addressed.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Integrity in Politics, seriously not joking

Integrity in politics will only come in partnership with integrity in the people responsible for reporting politics. Whilst we have a news cycle based upon excoriating every mistake, we have a perverse incentive that encourages everyone at the mercy of that cycle to hide those mistakes until the last possible moment at which point their career is over.
It’s a bit like nuclear disarmament during the cold war – how do you get the parties to stop the stockpiling and escalation without everyone doing it at the same time?

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Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Integrity in Politics, seriously not joking

I’m not sure I’d start with the media. The biggest problem is that it seems accountability disappeared from US politics.

Even though there is "a news cycle based upon excoriating every mistake", there is no consequence for making a mistake. Look at the insider stock trading scandal (Sen. Loeffler et. al.). Any politician in West Europe would’ve left in shame already. There is no way they would be able to stay on because the standard there is the appearance, not the legality of it. If you appeared to have benefited from your classified info, your political career is ended. Somehow the US media is just discussing how this scandal impacts their chances for re-election.

A (bi-)partisan media is in my view not necessarily a huge problem. As long as there is a reasonably even distribution of viewpoints in the press, every party is held up to the same standards, except by different outlets. It does become a problem if the standards are applied differently by and to politicians, depending on the affiliations of the person being judged.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Integrity in Politics, seriously not joking

Who owns "the media"?
Who decides what "the media" will be reporting upon?

Your suggestion that "the people" need integrity is a bit short sighted unless it is directed at those "people" who are making the decisions.

But as usual, "the people" will be blamed for all that is outside their influence because why not, they are such easy targets and gaslighting is so in vogue these days.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I hear from a relative in active service that military personnel are being ordered to say there are no active cases in their units even when that is a lie.

He remarked that, with such orders in effect, it is not possible to trust anything your officers say.

Judge for yourself what effect THAT might have on military morale or effectiveness.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What do you mean, I can’t possibly imagine any problematic effects from the rank and file being faced with the fact that their superiors have not only ordered them to lie on a matter that can literally be life threatening to them and those around them, but also the fact that said superiors have made crystal clear that the grunts are disposable and will be sacrificed to protect the image of said superiors.

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Anonymous Coward says:

absolutely exactly what the USA govt always does with whistle blowers! says they want them, they need them they will protect them and then shits on them all from a great height! it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, every time someone does this, whichever govt is in control, the ‘prime objective’ is to single out the whistle blower and crucify them!!

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ROGS says:

Re: Re: Re: Emperor, schmemperor: save your own fucking heroes

Well, like I said:

Headlines You Will Never See!!!

"Edward Snowden Voted Guardian Of DEMOCRACY. DUE PROCESS, Civil Liberty, Free Press, and FREEDOM!!!!" by the NSA/CIA//FBI/etalphabeticus!!!!

STFU, or talk about your own countries failures, which are plethora, and

Fucking Contagious

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ROGS says:

Headlines You Will Neer See!"

The United States has reclaimed Edward Snowden as Hero!!!

Reality check:The United States has reclaimed Edward Snowden as a…a… a (checks notes….) national scourge and a threat to DEMOCRACY EVERY_FUCKING_WHERE!

Free speech! (wheres my police union boss after I incite a kid to use an AR-15 on a synagogue, after I harass him, mand blackmail him online?!!!?)

Meh: subsequently attempted to reclaim him as a national hero.

China is full of actual everyday heroes, and few of them are like American cops: Doctors, lawyers, nail technicians; whores, noodle sellers, scooter riders who save pedestrians.

All of them work together to "do the right thing".

Its amazing.

ECA (profile) says:


Feel like we live in China?

Reality check #1.
Until we admit we are NOT angels. we will never be human.
We are every description of Noun you wish to say. Every derogatory concept and understanding, you can think of. Humans will do Anything and everything to Everything, and not really care, unless it kills them.

As a large group, we can discuss HOW we all should live as a group, Never an individual. But until we can enforce that Ideal….WE ARE HUMAN.

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ROGS says:

Re: Re:

Ah, America, where the First Amendment died, because of *people like you.

Saving Intelligence Community faces and the due process blur in Fusion Ceneter spying is way more important to your types than your own laws and civil liberties

FBIs James Comey, CIAs John Brennan: Today, the ferocious FBI/CIA partisan fags, tomorrow, Lockheed Martins RANDs gang stalkers in chief.

Your cockroach faces are pretty unsaveable at this point, dont you agree?

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