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.