Last week, on September 27th, GAP kicked off the American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability with our first stop at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. National Security Agency whistleblower Tom Drake, SEC whistleblower Gary Aguirre, and Kansas City Star reporter Mike McGraw joined GAP President Louis Clark and National Security & Human Rights (and DOJ whistleblower) Jesselyn Radack for a day full of events, including class presentations, intimate discussions with students, and our main-event, a phenomenal panel presentation in front of an estimated 1,800 – 2,000 Nebraskans at UNL's Lied Center. (Video embedded below.)
The entire day was truly a celebration of whistleblowers and their importance to society. Drake and Radack kicked off the day by stopping by local radio station KLIN, where they were interviewed on Jack & John in the Morning about the issues surrounding national security and whistleblower law. After meeting with notable whistleblowing law scholar and Associate Dean of the College of Law Richard Moberly and Dean of the College of Law Susan Poser, Drake and Radack then presented at the College of Law to a room full of students, community members, Law School faculty, and practicing attorneys. After the presentation, students and community members expressed their gratitude for the speakers' visit to the Law College.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist McGraw began his day by speaking to a freshman honors seminar on the First Amendment, before presenting to an ethics class on Mass Media and Society. McGraw participated in the event because reporters often play a pivotal role in protecting the whistleblowers with whom they work. After these lively discussions, McGraw stopped by the student-run campus station KRNU-FM to tape a broadcast for Campus Voices, the station's weekly public affairs series.
The Business School students weren't left out – hundreds had the opportunity to hear about Aguirre's experiences blowing the whistle, and the ethical decisions he encountered at the SEC. He spoke to four different classes before and after the panel, including Organizational Behavior and Finance Institutions, Marketing, and Fraud Examination. The students really got something out of hearing from someone who's been in the trenches, fighting corporate wrongdoers.
The big draw, of course, was our 70-minute panel discussion focusing on the ethical considerations that are faced by whistleblowers. Drake, Aguirre, and McGraw served as panelists, while Radack moderated (while recounting her own incredible story) and Clark emceed. Through the show, each whistleblower discussed the ethical issues that drove them to come forward – all first within their organizations, and then (eventually) to advocacy organizations, the media, and Congress. McGraw discussed the vital relationship between journalism and whistleblowing in protecting the public interest, citing his own experience working with whistleblowers (one notable example is GAP client George Sarris, who exposed a lapse in military aircraft maintenance at a Nebraska Air Force Base).
At the end of the program, Aguirre and Drake were asked if they would blow the whistle again – given what they now know about the whistleblowing process. Each said that they would. Drake said that he had been willing to go to jail for the truth, but was grateful that his case ended instead with the judge admonishing the prosecution. In her final question to the panel, Radack asked McGraw what advice he would give to young people facing a serious ethical dilemma in the workplace. In a rare moment of levity in the intense discussion, McGraw replied, "Call me!"
After the panel, several students, who were moved by the whistleblowers stories, approached the stage to shake the panelists' hands and speak with them individually.
We at GAP were thrilled with the enormous turnout and excitement for the event. A video of it will be posted online (and linked to by the GAP website) soon.
Special thanks to the three school department sponsors involved – the College of Business Administration's Program in Business Ethics, the College of Law, and the College of Journalism – who generated interest and discussion around the issue of whistleblowing by promoting the event, helping us produce it, and coordinating a whistleblower-themed film festival in the days leading up to the special day!