Stanger, Allison Whistleblowers: Honesty in America from Washington to Trump. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019. 290. Hardcover, $27.50.
Allison Stanger begins her book, Whistleblowers: Honesty in America from Washington to Trump, with a paradox. If U.S. ideals elevate whistleblowers by commending them for "speaking truth to power" (p. 9), why is it that whistleblowers are also punished for committing themselves to the truth? While whistleblowers are celebrated when their revelations of abuse hit the news, whistleblowers face retribution through marginalization, demotion, and dismissal when media attention wanes. Many carry the stigma of whistleblowing for life. How to make sense of this paradox frames Stanger's work as we move from revolutionary times to the era of Trump.
Stanger begins her history of U.S. whistleblowing by examining how the first law protecting whistleblowers emerged from the exposure of corrupt acts by the Commodore in Chief of the Continental Navy. This begins an internal struggle within the U.S. about what constitutes corruption, what protection should be afforded whistleblowers, and who should be afforded this protection.
The Civil War gave rise to its own forms of corruption as the war machines in both the north and south sought large stores of food, weapons, uniforms, etc. The scale of corruption during the war led Congress to pass the False Claims act "under which whistle blowers could bring 'qui tam' actions on behalf of the government," (p. 38) entitling them to a share of damages collected by government agencies.
After the war, a developing country saw a growth in possibilities for prosperity. While many exploited the potential of the era toward honest ends, others did not. In what is referred to as the first Gilded Age, exposure of the excesses of Tammy Hall created public outrage and action at the local and state levels. Congressional complicity in the crony capitalism associated with the development of the transcontinental railroad did the same at the national level. During this era corruption "took three principal forms...fraud or false claims...skimming or graft (and)...a variant of quid pro quo" (p. 52).
The perceived existential threat of the rise of Russian communism led to the passage of the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act which defined previously acceptable speech and action as treasonous. With the rise of the Cold War, the 1947 National Security Act, and its 1949...