Limiting the rights of whistleblowers

Brandon Lesko
Assoc. Opinion Editorwhistleblowerbackystabby

Doubtless, many of you have heard of the abusive Rutgers basketball coach, Mike Rice, and his firing from the university on April 3. However, some of you may not know the story of Eric Murdock, the Rutgers employee who leaked the video footage that ultimately resulted in Rice’s departure.
Murdock, a retired nine-year NBA veteran, claims to have warned the school’s athletic director, Tim Pernetti, about Rice’s abusive style on several occasions. Instead of heeding Murdock’s warnings, the school decided it was best to fire Murdock himself instead of taking action against Rice. This was done after Murdock presented video evidence of Rice’s abuse to the athletic director. Currently, Murdock is pursuing a whistle-blower lawsuit against Rutgers for what he views as a wrongful firing.
In a New York Times article last weekend, the subject of covert videos exposing misconduct came up again. This time, it dealt with the abuse and mistreatment of animals on livestock farms across the country. Some videos show horses being burnt by chemicals, piglets being flung into the air, and another where “workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks” at an egg supplier. Pretty evil stuff.
The interesting thing about this story is not so much the retaliation some of these companies and workers received, but the fact that these videos have prompted a dozen or more state legislatures to propose bills that would make the covert taping of livestock farms illegal as well as require employees to disclose any ties to animal rights groups before being hired. Some go so far as to require video tapes to be turned in to the authorities immediately after being filmed.
Instead of guaranteeing the safety and integrity of the whistleblowers themselves, these states wish to eliminate the possibility of whistle-blowing altogether. When you punish those who would expose abuse or wrongdoing in a company you rob the public of their right to know how their food is produced, if a bank is laundering money for drug cartels (see HSBC), or how their sons are being kicked and screamed at by an immature tool at college.
In the two cases we look at today, we see that, clearly, there is no incentive for employees of crooked ventures to step forward and point out abuse, negligence, or illegal activities. Even though Eric Murdock’s actions lead to the firing of Rice and the resignation of Tim Pernetti, he was punished, not rewarded, by being fired. In the case of the farm videos, companies like McDonalds ended their patronage of one of the suppliers, but those who brought this information to light were not patted on the back.
Instead of looking into stricter regulations for how animals are to be treated on commercial farms, the state legislatures have decided it’s easier to ban the truth altogether. How can we, as citizens of this country, sit by and let this happen? You may think I’m overreacting, but in this issue lie the greater issues of freedom of information, freedom of speech, and our ability to keep in check those who have the power to suppress the truth.
The state legislatures need to concern themselves with protecting the citizens they serve and not the corporations that pay for their campaigns. They can start by passing concrete legislation that definitively protects whistleblowers from backlash, firing, or impediments towards getting the information out. If they are going to ban the practice of whistle-blowing altogether, then in return they need to require all companies, schools, and organizations to be forthcoming with their information and to back that up with visits by state inspectors who ensure these entities are being honest and truthful.
But personally, I respect and favor the system we have now, where a few brave, moral people can stand up for what is ethical, and I want those people to have every protection for doing so. Instead of punishing these individuals, they need to be rewarded and incentivized to report misconduct if and when it rears its ugly head. Otherwise, how can we expect our democracy to work? If a whole industry is protected from private investigation, and if anyone who stands up for what is right is immediately fired, how will we ever know about the horrible things going on behind closed doors? More importantly, how could we fix them?