Before the federal government starts handing out multimillion-dollar awards to corporate wives who turn in their husbands for violating one of the SEC’s 10,000 commandments, we need to get rid of this self-congratulatory term “whistleblower.”
I am not one who opposes naming names where there are real crimes or real threats. I believe with Thomas Jefferson that: “A prejudice prevails too extensively among the young that it is dishonorable to bear witness against one another.” But the metaphor of “whistleblower” as currently used by business journalists is offensive to anyone who respects English.
The image of a whistleblower comes from certain sports in which a referee oversees a contest between opposing sides and calls attention to rule violations by blowing a whistle. Thus, crucial to the phenomenon of “whistleblowing” is the referee’s position of neutrality between the parties.
No such neutrality now exists in the corporate world. Employees who stand to reap huge sums from government agencies cannot possibly be neutral and thus cannot be considered whistleblowers. At best, such a person may be termed an informant. But if he hands over his information for pieces of silver, then the proper term is “bounty hunter.”