Why the whistleblower-journalist relationship matters

As part of its 2012 Hearst Distinguished Lectures Series, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication will present a two-day program exploring “What If Nobody Listened? How Whistleblowers and Journalists Expose Corruption, Skullduggery and Injustices” Feb. 8-9 at MMC and BBC 

Photo: Courtesy of HuffingtonPost.com.

In 1984, Meryl Streep received her fifth Academy Award nomination for her starring role in Silkwood, a 1983 film based on the true story of a woman on a quest to reveal the truth about the company she worked for after she was exposed to plutonium radiation.

Sixteen years later, Russell Crowe was nominated for the first time for playing the research chemist who appeared on a 60 Minutes exposé on Big Tobacco in 1999’s The Insider. And just two years ago, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz shone a light on the story of the Nebraska cop who, working as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia, outed the United Nations for covering up a sex scandal.

They may be played by stars, but whistleblowers are Every Joes and Every Janes and, often, they have an ally in the Fourth Estate that has come across a potentially big story. Together, these individuals navigate the treacherous waters that lead to the truth.

But what if nobody listened?

That’s the question at the heart of a two-day program sponsored by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) that will be held Feb. 8-9 at both Modesto A. Maidique Campus and Biscayne Bay Campus. The event is co-sponsored by the Government Accountability Project, the FIU School of Accounting, College of Law, School of International & Public Affairs and the Honors College. Admission is free.

How this came about

Fred Blevens is an SJMC professor and Honors Fellow at FIU.

Last year, Fred Blevens received an invitation from the Government Accountability Project (GAP) to join a committee that is developing a new set of guidelines and case studies educators nationwide will be able to access online. Chief among the committee’s goals is to raise awareness in the workplace of the actions individuals can take when it comes to blowing the whistle on an organization’s malpractice.

“We’re in the beginning stages on development this curriculum,” he said, “but, basically, GAP also identified university campuses in the United States where we could have a program like this one.”

For two days, Blevens and a group of whistleblowers and journalists will explore the importance and impact of how an effort between the two can effect change.

In addition to talks, panelists also will visit select classes in the College of Law and the schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, Accounting and International & Public Affairs.

Here’s the schedule of events:

Wednesday, Feb. 8 at MMC

2-4:30 p.m.; SIPA 125 – “How Whistling Smoked Out Big Tobacco”

Panelists will include Lowell Bergmann, the CBS producer Al Pacino portrayed in The Insider (Bergman will appear via Skype); as well as Howard Wasserman, an FIU Law professor; former CNN investigative reporter Mark Feldstein, now a professor at Maryland; and Louis Clark, the president of the Government Accountability Project.

7-8:30 p.m.; MARC Pavilion – “The Politics of Concealment and Revelation in the Nixon Era”

Mark Feldstein, the author of Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture, and Fred Blevens will discuss the Nixon White House’s many attacks on media and the reprehensible action of both men, including Nixon’s plot to kill columnist Anderson in the wake of Watergate.

Thursday, Feb. 9 at BBC

2-3:15 p.m.; Wolfe Theatre – “No Secrets: How Whistleblowers and Journalists Have Changed the World”

Panelists include Frank Casey, one of the Fox Hound whistleblowers who exposed Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme; Jon Oberg, the former Department of Education official who exposed the banks participating in student loan fraud; Miami Herald investigative reporter Carol Marbin, and Louis Clark.