October 13, 2019


Whistle-Blowing: Scott McLemee reviews the timely Whistleblowers: Honesty in America From Washington to Trump by Allison Stanger. (Scott McLemee, September 27, 2019, Inside Higher Ed)

When and where "whistle-blowing" entered the vernacular is unclear, but Stanger finds it used in newspapers only in the early 1970s. A search of JSTOR seems to confirm this. The first reference to whistle-blowing in a scholarly paper appeared toward the end of 1973 in Public Administration Review, where it was defined as "turning over evidence of organizational malfeasance to the media and interested parties." The authors identified it a weapon of "the organization guerrilla" -- someone who responded to bureaucratic inertia or malfeasance by "transforming the hierarchical components of the organization; in other words, diffusing power throughout the system." The concept of the organization guerrilla did not catch on, but that of the whistle-blower did; the latter expression appears in JSTOR with great frequency starting in 1976.

But what Stanger identifies as "the world's first whistleblower protection law" was in place almost two centuries earlier. The Continental Congress passed it in July 1778, in response to the situation created by Esek Hopkins, the commander in chief of the Continental Navy. Besides his record of insubordination and self-dealing, Hopkins had retaliated against a number of officers who petitioned for his removal from command. Among other things, they objected to his torture of British POWs. Hopkins had two of his critics arrested and sued others for libel. Besides stripping him of his commission, Congress proclaimed:

It is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.

Posted by at October 13, 2019 7:22 AM