Last week the Make It Safe Campaign, a loose coalition of open society organizations and whistleblowers, implemented/pushed/imposed/adopted a “civility pledge,” presumably meant at curbing hostilities within the whistleblower community. I did not participate in drafting, debating, or adopting it. And I won’t be taking the pledge. Here’s why:
It’s overly broad and too vague. It suppresses free speech. It doesn’t get to the root of the problems in the community. And it has no enforcement mechanism.
It implores its takers not to “engage in attacks against fellow MISC members.” First, what’s an “attack”? If a fellow MISC member, such as the Government Accountability Project or the Project on Government Oversight (which are not equal among MISC members, as measured by clout, power, and access to the power structure) adopt tactics that betray the interests of whistleblowers and engage in dishonest or disreputable conduct when challenged, is it an “attack” to state the truth about such conduct? Who gets to define what an attack is? Keep in mind that both GAP and POGO are on the MISC Steering Committee. How is the pledge to be enforced? What are the due process mechanisms, if any? Are there any appeals? Would they be judges in their own cause? Who renders a decision? Will that decision maker be neutral and independent?
If the enforcement mechanisms do not exist, will the pledge be nothing more than a shield from criticism, to be used in a self-serving manner in response to pointed critiques? (And if the due process mechanisms exist, why not just go ahead and implement a voting mechanism/seat at the table for lobbying/advocacy purposes? Or would that make it easier to expose moment-of-truth betrayal?)
The same could be said about tolerating differences of opinion. This is quite the vague term. The temptation is there to gild the truth and spin inconvenient facts as mere differences of opinion. I know because it happens frequently by those within MISC that throw the truth and integrity out the window when confronted with their own deplorable conduct.
I also won’t be taking the pledge because it doesn’t address the root cause of the problems within the whistleblower community. Incivility is a symptom, not a cause. The cause is disenfranchisement, and seeing our so-called representatives betray us behind closed doors in Congress. Ask yourselves why is it that, post-Snowden, GAP had to speak with one voice about the utter lack of protections for national security whistleblowers (usually either through Bea Edwards or Louis Clark), rather than allow Tom Devine to utter platitudes about how Obama tried his best but was roiled by some reactionary in Congress, or some such nonsense. The reason is simple: Snowden raised the stakes, and Devine’s power-courting routine conflicted with GAP’s image in this new landscape where, unsurprisingly, the public actually cares about whistleblowers when a real one appears, warts and all, rather than the one-dimensional cardboard versions GAP’s been pushing for decades to absolutely no one’s benefit but its own.
Last November, Devine issued a remarkably revisionist and self-serving end-of-year statement. He lamented the breakdown in civility in the community while adopting a faux above-it-all posture, which served to shield his own instrumental role in community fissures. He said the following:
We can and need to be stronger as a community as well. I have been disturbed at breakdowns in civility, credibility and respect for differing opinions. Those are the primary values of what we fight for, and it’s bewildering to me when we behave the same as our adversaries. It will be a real challenge to impose accountability without suppressing free speech. I believe we need to try.
Those are not my primary values, not when the truth gets suppressed and distorted and uncivil conduct occurs behind closed doors while a false face is presented to the public.
In any event, this so-called civility pledge neither imposes accountability nor protects free speech. I will not be endorsing it.