Reflections on Whistleblowers and Government Intervention

Prior to this class, I must admit that I was shamefully under-informed about the actions of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and even the importance of WikiLeaks in general. What I’ve since grasped from the readings and videos that we’ve seen is the stunning impact whistleblowers like Manning can have on the world. While the article “Top Ten Ways Bradley Manning Changed The World” lists countless ways in which Manning’s actions have had an impact on politics (release of the Collateral Murder video, documents from Hillary Clinton, etc.) what I find most inspiring is the impact of Manning’s actions on other would-be whistleblowers. While it obviously took a great act of courage for Manning to do what she did, it’s refreshing to see someone willing to take such a great risk to bring important information to the public. Without Manning’s actions it’s possible that others like Edward Snowden would have never come forward. Throughout history whistleblowers have been responsible for groundbreaking news stories – one of the earlier examples being the release of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg. In this case the public was shown the truth about American actions in Vietnam. In fact, Snowden has admitted to drawing inspiration from Ellsberg. I view this chain of one whistleblower inspiring another to be conducive to journalism, but what I find discouraging is that some politicians are taking steps to stifle whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning.

The attempt to create a federal shield law is primarily aimed at protecting the anonymity of sources, but this law would also make an effort to narrowly define what a journalist is. Senator Charles Schumer has come out and said that this definition would exclude WikiLeaks which would likely deter whistleblowers from coming forward with information if they know they cannot be protected. This attempt by the government to stifle what has become an important form of journalism is disheartening to see. It seems as though the ground is being laid for a world in which the government is taking increasingly bigger legal steps to suppress the voices of independent media and whistleblowers in general. If laws like this one are enacted, we could witness the steady decline of individuals willing to come forward with information like Manning and Snowden have. This just seems like an attempt at curbing freedom of speech and I worry that it could absolutely prevent the next Manning from changing the world.

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