The borderline medieval elevation of the whistleblower is a depressing sign of the times. Firstly, and most obviously, it reveals a profound slack in modern journalism, which seems to have transformed itself into a passive receiver of ‘truth’ rather than active seeker of stories. Journalists are increasingly reliant upon sneaked-out information from the citadels of power. This is bad for so many reasons: because journalists lose their dirt-digging drive and instead become grateful recipients of discs or graphs from disgruntled individuals; because it redefines ‘the truth’ to mean something graciously given to us by those in the know, rather than something we shape through the very act of seeking it, of analysing and understanding what we have found out; and because it inevitably nurtures shoddy, rushed, ill-thought-through journalism. Indeed, some of the claims about the NSA are now being called into question, which suggests that getting mere info from one man is no substitute for spending a long time looking for a story, and then discussing it, checking it, contextualising it, and making it something bigger than simply, ‘Look at what was whispered in my ear….’
The cult of the whistleblower also casts a harsh light on modern-day radicalism. The reliance of everyone from anti-war activists to civil liberties agitators on the revelations of One Brave Man, and their acceptance of the idea that there’s ‘wilful ignorance’ among the public, speaks to an increasingly elitist, almost Vatican-like politics, which treats social change as something to be brought about by tiny numbers of brave individuals in the face of general stupidity. Indeed, ironically, given the PC attitudes of the kind of people who worship whistleblowers, the cult of the whistleblower elevates mainly white, middle-class, well-connected men to the position of enlightener of the masses – for those are the kind of people likely to have cushy jobs in government, and therefore access to high-level information, and therefore the ability, apparently, to spread Truth far and wide.
Worst of all, the cult of the whistleblower reveals the mainstreaming of conspiratorial thinking, of the belief that dark forces rule over a weak and emaciated public that is kept in blissful ignorance.