In theory, we applaud “whistle blowers.” We are grateful that they have brought forth an important story. An issue with which we should all be concerned.

In the real world, whistle blowers fare poorly. They don’t get a lot of congratulations. They are distrusted by everyone in their industry and elsewhere. They are frequently prosecuted for failing to come forward sooner by outside authorities and always fired by their employers — regardless of what “the law” says.

Within the organization on whom they are lowering the boom, they are ostracized. Typically they are prevented from earning a living in that profession again. Scorned. Hated by many whose careers are ruined.  A lot of people will go down when that whistle blows.

The other day, I told the story of Bernard Cardinal Law and our Somali cat, Big Guy. It was a true story. Cute and friendly.

The story gets a lot less friendly a few years later. That was when Garry and others in his age-group were being forced out of television by virtue of having gotten “too mature” or just “not the right type” to roll with the “new kids” on the TV block. It was the same time that the huge story of the pedophile priests of Boston was breaking. Garry didn’t cover the story (though he followed it closely) because by then, he was not working.

Cardinal Law had been one of his friends in Boston’s power structure. He was one of the people Garry would have turned to when his own fortunes needed a lift. Instead, the Cardinal was coming down. He went back to Rome where he passed away in December 2017.

The demise of the reign of Bernard Cardinal Law was tragic on many levels. He was in charge of moving the pedophile priests from parish to parish, year after year. More than 20 years that we know of. He had to know it was wrong. He was a bright man. A Jesuit. Well-educated. Intelligent in a worldly way, not just as a churchman.

But, he had his orders. Discipline in the Church is no different than in the military or police. Strict. You do not fight with your superiors … not if you intend to remain in the Church.

While this was going on, William (Billy) Bulger — an important Massachusetts political figure for many years and who was another friend of Garry’s — was grabbing his golden parachute and drifting away. He had been promoted from head of the Massachusetts’ Senate to President of the University of Massachusetts. A genuine intellectual, he was political, funny, and rivetingly smart.

But. He had a brother and that brother was a criminal. Not just any criminal. Whitey Bulger was one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals. A very big deal on the criminal scene. Whitey had been in hiding for decades. Despite this, no one had closely questioned Dr. William Bulger about his brother’s location.

You’d think that would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but it wasn’t. Or, maybe it was, but it never made it past the ears of those who heard or knew.

How many people — other than brother Billy — knew where Whitey was hiding? Politicians, reporters, policemen, and more than a handful of FBI agents knew, not to mention the entire Bulger family. But no one was publicly saying anything.  Supposedly, Whitey was also an informant and protected by the FBI. It got extremely tangled and in the end, at least one agent ended up in prison.

Note: John Connolly, the former FBI agent, was convicted of racketeering, obstruction of justice and murder — charges stemming from his relationship with James “Whitey” Bulger, Steve Flemmi, and the Winter Hill Gang. He was convicted on racketeering charges in 2002 and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. In 2008, he was convicted on state charges of second-degree murder in Florida and sentenced to 40 years in prison. 

Everything wound up in court. Movies were made.

The issue always arises — when does conscience force you to tell the whole truth? When does  being on the right side exceed your need to survive, have a career, get your pension, protect your family? Protect your life? At what point are you obligated to question orders and do the right thing? This is no simple question. While we acknowledge good and evil, in our real lives, there is more going on than that. There are other people to protect. Family. Friends, Co-workers. That can add up to an awful lot of people and if you bring them down, they aren’t going to thank you because you “did the right thing.” How hated are you ready to be?

This is the question. Whether you march with the church, a political machine, are a police officer, or in the military — the truth can get you and yours killed. As in literally (not figuratively) dead. Or locked in a prison from which you will never again see the light.

When does obedience to the order to which you belong end and obedience to higher principles begin? Discipline is strict. If you do not obey a direct order — conscience or not — you can and will be brought up on charges. Fired. You will lose everything. Probably forever.

In theory, conscience should (must) rule but in reality — there’s a lot more to it. You don’t just disobey a command from a superior officer, whether the officer is the Pope, a Colonel, or the President. Not without paying some stupendous price. Your disobedience might easily cost you your life or the lives of those you care about. Not to mention everything you value.

The cost of obeying your conscience is only a small thing when the issue is maybe snitching on your older brother to a mom or dad. That’s probably the last time it’s no big deal. The higher up you get in the ranks of any organization, the harder you will fall.

Nor, in the end, will you got a lot of thanks for your efforts. Even those for whom you went out on a limb will probably not be thanking you.

While all this high-end drama was playing out, the people that Garry had hoped he could ask for help in repositioning himself in the market were collapsing, never to be publicly seen again. While he was going down, they were falling too.

They had better parachutes than Garry. Life can be very funny that way.

Note 2: For a real life look at the life of a prominent whistle blower, take a look at the life of Frank Serpico, the guy about whom they made the movie. 

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


  1. Thought provoking Marilyn. I still think the Cardinal should not have turned a blind eye to what was going on no matter how it would have ended for him…countless young lives were changed forever as a result of their being abused, and I mean forever, sexual abuse remains within people forever and it’s ramifications on how they develop into adults and their relationships are tainted and run deep. The Cardinal had to live with that knowledge, knowing how many lives were ruined because he did nothing, but I still see it as his own selfishness taking precedence over what he should have done. Serpico is a great example of someone with true morals and ethics despite the pushback. You would certainly think the Cardinal would have had those high moral and ethics too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree. Moreover, the church should NEVER have ordered him to keep passing them around. It was a personal failure for him, but a massive failure of Catholicism and its structure. From Pope to local priest, it was a terrible thing to have happened and I’m not sure they are yet addressing it, even now. Protecting the Church has been more important than its adherents and that isn’t new or recent. They have a couple of thousand years of it.

      It shouldn’t have happened. That Cardinal Law didn’t have the strength to stand up to the weight of his Church was bad, but that they forced him into it in the first place is, in my opinion, even worse. Because if he should have known better, how much better should have been the Pope and HIS group? Yet they never took any of the heat.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. There you go, the classical battle of good versus evil. We need the whistle blowers when we slip into those grey areas. They pay a terrible price for it but in the long run we do benefit from their efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You covered every aspect of what happens to perfection. It is a tragedy that the honest are punished for listening to their conscience and doing the right thing. I’ve witnessed this first hand through my son who has always stood for those members of society easily trampled on. In one instance he was blackballed by the company he worked for. “Do Not Hire AH for any company associated with us.” Why? because he stood up for those unable unsure or mentally handicapped and couldn’t fight for themselves. He’s even been labelled by an arm of the government for standing tall and fighting for the rights of others. The only gratification he received, was (from his family) and within himself. He would do it again. He stood tall for those that couldn’t. Although he wasn’t a whistleblower, the results were the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From everything I have seen, that’s pretty much what happens to people who fight organizations with power. They don’t like it and the people whose lives you affect by what you do aren’t happy with you either because what you do affects other people.

      Having a conscience doesn’t get you a lot of medals in this world. Maybe it has always been true.


      1. I think at one time, it mattered, but the almighty dollar speaks louder than ever before in history and even death isn’t too high a price to pay for what they want. I still admire those willing to stand tall for what’s right.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. He’s humble and although he’s proud to take a stand, he’s not “proud” in that he looks for praise, he goes about what he does quietly and without fanfare. It ultimately gets noticed and “rewarded” by those in power in a negative way, but he stands firm always. I love him for that!


  4. I saw a movie once that was based on something like what you are talking about…at least a piece of it. And I think it was based on a true story. A journalist discovered something unsavory about a muckety-muck…someone with power and money. She wrote her expose, and was hauled into court on charges of slander and defamation of character of the muck person. The judge ordered her to reveal her source, which she declined to do, citing whichever Amendment it is (blame the Utah public school system for my lack of knowledge of our country’s ‘rules’). They threw her in jail for contempt of court blah blah blah. The judicial system figured that she’d get tired of being in there (and separated from her young family and husband) and buckle. She did not. Continued to refuse to reveal the source even through increasingly severe penalties and jail time that drew out into years. Her husband divorced her. Her kids grew up without her. And she would not tell. It was subsequently proven that the unsavory thing the muckety did was true. Someone else came forward with concrete evidence and the bag o’ slime was put in prison. The journalist was released. Of course everyone was all over her to tell WHO was the original source? She said she still would not tell them. Everyone went away scratching their heads. A few admired the journalist’s resolve to her principles (as they saw it), others thought she was just stubborn and a bit stupid. It turned out the source was a child. A friend of the journalist’s young son and she got her lead from overhearing a conversation the child had with another child on a school bus. An “AHA” moment for me, who was treading the “geez she’s dim” camp. So to ME? The questions you posed:

    “when does conscience force you to tell the whole truth? When does being on the right side exceed your need to survive, have a career, get your pension, protect your family? Protect your life? At what point are you obligated to question orders and do the ‘right’ thing?” Usually come on a case by case basis and will show exactly what a person is made of and who they are, deep down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The first amendment covers all the stuff journalists and other writers and artists do, as well as our right to speak, assemble, and petition the government. The first amendment contains most of the rights we hold deal. It’s one hell of an amendment.

      As for the rest of us — I’ve never been put the the test. Garry has, to a degree, but never to quite that extent. It is one of the things that seems to be part of a real journalists life. They have the right to refuse to reveal sources. Usually, courts will honor it, but not always. It depends on the judge, the issue and inevitably, the power of whatever organization is being threatened.

      And there are times when the source SHOULD be revealed. It’s not 100 rigid and can get very complicated. Worse for priests and ministers, shrinks and doctors because for them it is almost 100% rigid … and for lawyers, if they give it up, they are disbarred, no matter how righteous their position was.

      Doing the right thing is extremely complicated and I am very, very glad I never was put to that kind of test.

      If you’ve seen the movie “Serpico,” look up what happened to him AFTER he ‘busted’ the NYC police department. They totally destroyed his life.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Emb, I faced that decision several times in my professional life. When I was younger (and single), the decision was easier — to stand up to the bad guys. We have a fair amount of power in the media but it also carries risk.

      I never backed away but as I grew older, there was more anxiety about telling the bastards “Hell No”.

      Conscience is a firm guide for me. But I’m aware of the consequences that may follow.


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