(A) Brave, highly-motivated and patriotic watchdogs for the taxpayers, exposers of waste, corruption and stupidity at the risk of their careers and paychecks.
(B) self-seeking malcontents with personal and/or job-related problems who cry wolf to get back at the establishment, and to write themselves job insurance.
(C) A combination of A and B.
(D) None of the above.
Washington is a hotbed of whistle-blowers. Our second largest industry may be making, plugging and reporting leaks. The media thrives on it. Members of Congress make national names for themselves with leaked material. Various institutes and think tanks of the political right, left and center do nothing but encourage and/or comment on boo-boos brought by government whistle-blowers, or staffers who are paid to ferret out stuff that needs ferreting.
Your view of whistle-blowers probably depends on a combination of things: your age, sex, race, maybe even religious background, and certainly your standing with, and rank in the organization for whom the whistle blows.
Candidate Jimmy Carter had a different view of whistle-blowers (as an outsider) than does President Jimmy Carter, the insider.
President Reagan, or Kennedy, if that is to be, will certainly change their minds about people who point out waste or bonehead plays by the administration once the comments are directed at their administrations, their appointees or them.
I mention this because I deal with whistle-blowers and their targets six days a week. They help produce this column, others like it, and many parts of this and other newspapers. Both sides contribute; the attackers and the defenders.
The other day I was returning from lunch with a high career federal official. We passed a well-dressed, silver-haired man on the street. He was talking animatedly with a younger woman.
"See that guy?" the official said. "He's one of the biggest whistle-blowers in my agency. A professional! He does it to protect his job. He gets the media and some members of congress on his side. It makes him fireproof. We can't move against him even though he is an incompetent because he will cry discrimination on grounds he's a boat-rocker."
I commented that the man, whatever his alledged failings, had a lovely daughter. "Maybe," said the official, "but the lady with him isn't his daughter." That's another problem, he said. She is a close, close friend of the whistle-blower. They move around as they please, take long lunches. They speak quietly on the telephone about God knows what, he said, and nobody dares tell them to get back to work.
Earlier still, I had lunch with a whistle-blower. The kind of guy who, for his protection, you refer to as an "insider" or a "source." He had much the same thing to say about officials in his agency, and why he is a whistle-blower. That is: They spend a lot of the taxpayers' time pursuing personal, outside business or romantic interests. Those guys don't like whistle-blowers, he said, because they let congress, the press and the public know what their incompetence, or inattention to their jobs, is doing to important federal programs and the cost of government.
So it goes. I called both gentlemen back. Read them this column. Each man said it was about half accurate. The stuff they said was definitely true, each said. The other guy's comments generally were self-serving, they said.
That's it. I don't have the answers either. I suspect they are each about half right. Don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends are whistle-blowers. And some are their targets. In the twilight world of the newspaper business it is possible to move back and forth. Neither side is wild about it, but that is the way it is.
Meantime, keep those cards, letters, documents, questions and rebuttals coming. I may not have the answers, but the questions sure are fun.