Misconduct by those in high places is always dangerous to reveal. Whistleblowers thus face conflicting impulses: by challenging and exposing transgressions by the powerful, they perform a vital public service—yet they always suffer for it. Allison Stanger, professor of International Politics and Economics, takes Town Hall’s stage to bring us an episodic history of whistleblowing as an important but unrecognized cousin of civil disobedience. With accounts from her book Whistleblowers: Honesty in America from Washington to Trump, Stanger highlights histories of whistleblowing as a tool for holding powerful elites accountable in America. She recounts a range of whistleblowing episodes, from the national security debates surrounding Edward Snowden to the dishonesty of Donald Trump—all the way back to the corrupt Revolutionary War commodore Esek Hopkins, whose dismissal led in 1778 to the first whistleblower protection law.
Stanger shows us how, with changing technology and increasing militarization, the exposure of misconduct has grown more difficult to do and more personally costly for those who do it—yet American freedom, especially today, depends on it. Sit in with Stanger for a retrospective on the critical practice of whistleblowing throughout the history of our nation, and an unflinching look at its critical role in our democracy.
Allison Stanger is Technology and Human Values Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Russell Leng ‘60 Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College, New America Cybersecurity Fellow, and an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. She is the author of One Nation Under Contract.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.