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Allison Stanger’s New Book Brings Context to the Whistleblower Complaint

Ahead of her stop at Politics and Prose, the author discusses the history behind the recent complaint.

Photograph by Samantha Webster.

Allison Stanger‘s new book, Whistleblowers: Honesty in America From Washington to Trump, makes no mention of the recent complaint that helped spawn an impeachment inquiry into the President. But it makes for one epic prologue.

Stanger, who is a politics and economics professor at Middlebury College, spent seven arduous years researching and writing. When the book came out last week—how’s that for timing—events playing out in the news confirmed a sequence she had already noticed, after painstakingly crafting and reworking parts of the book. “What all that pain and suffering enabled me to do, I think, is to see certain patterns that were in motion since Trump’s election and put them into a larger historical context, so that what’s happening right now is not surprising,” she says.

On October 13, Stanger will discuss her book at Politics and Prose, at a moment when the act, seen as alternately patriotic and traitorous depending who you ask, is at the center of Washington political discourse. And it’s not the first time that’s been the case.

Whistleblowers traces the history of the practice and its role in American democracy, beginning with the first whistleblower protection law passed in 1778. The year before, Esek Hopkins, a commander of the Continental Navy, was turned in to authorities by ten members of his crew. Hopkins had a history of bad behavior. He disobeyed orders from Congress and sought opportunities to self-deal, and tortured British prisoners of war. When he was dismissed from service, he lashed out, having two of his accusers jailed and suing others.

Congress, however, sided with the whistleblowers, releasing the two who’d been arrested and passing the first law protecting those who speak up. The government paid their legal bills, too. That’s not typical, though. While that decision cemented the value of whistleblowing in the United States—an appraisal that has been tested many times over the years—it can be a lonely business, which Stanger learned after interviewing former National Security Administration officials.

“That’s what I think made it a much stronger book, because it gave me a sense of how it looks from both sides of the barricade, so to speak,” she says. “Because once you’re a whistleblower, you’re an outsider.”

With Trump publicly declaring his intent to “interview” the whistleblower, a pursuit at odds with the protocols in place to protect their identities, and a second official reportedly coming forward, according to ABC News, Stanger says the public should focus less on the informants themselves and more on the content of their complaints.

She points out that the FBI’s former associate director, Mark Felt, also known as Deep Throat, had ulterior motives for revealing damning information about President Nixon‘s involvement in Watergate. “He wasn’t doing it for strictly patriotic reasons, but it’s totally irrelevant to focus on that,” Stanger says. “What we need to focus on is the content of what is revealed…Everything else is really just spin and noise.”

She looks forward to talking about the subject in DC this week, a few minutes’ drive from the eye of this particular political storm, and hopes to help bring some context to the news of the day. “Everybody is completely anxious, the 24-hour news cycle is driving us crazy, there’s this escalation of rhetoric that’s profoundly unsettling,” Stanger says. “But if you read my book, you have the context for understanding where we presently stand and where we need to go from here.”

Allison Stanger discusses her book at 1 PM on October 13 at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW; Free.

Nathan Diller
Editorial Fellow

Nathan Diller has also written for DCist, Vulture, and Bustle. On Twitter, he’s @nateclaydiller.