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One big dysfunctional family

Dysfunctional families come in all shapes, sizes, and all manner of chaos. But they all have one thing in common: When some truthteller finally gets fed up enough to name the core problem (whether it be Daddy’s drinking or Mom’s kleptomania or Auntie’s chronic lying or all of the above) — the entire clan will turn on the hapless truthteller, en masse, and blame that person for causing the problem.

A long-ago neighbor woman once came to my house raging because her husband had been caught committing incest with their daughter and her teenage son had been accused of molesting not one but three toddlers. Was she mad at Dad? Mad at the kid? Horrified on behalf of her abused daughter? Nope. She was mad at the cousin (mother of one of the toddlers) who brought the situation to light. And why get mad at Cousin? “Because it was family business and she should have kept it in the family!”

And she fully expected me to share her view. (I never let her in my house again.)

I suspect a lot of people who read this blog have found themselves in the position of being inconvenient truthtellers at one time or another — and have been pounded for it.

Last month Tahn, in the comments section, suggested that I write an article about why whistleblowers in corporations, bureaucracies, the military, etc. are treated so abominably. He offered me a lot of research material and I’ve been gathering more myself. But now Radley Balko has written the absolutely perfect article on that very topic — focusing on police and using several of the examples I’d have used.

And here’s another take on that sorry old tale from the great Will Grigg. That one’s also about police. But they’re hardly alone.

It’s universal. The one person who dares try to set matters to right is precisely the one who gets trampled by his own mob.

What’s almost as depressing is how few people see that injustice and harm to others needs, always and everywhere, to be exposed. And that the act of exposure is not the problem. To wit, here are some credulous quotes from a USA Today article inspired by Diop Kamau, one of the nation’s first and most persistent video cop-watchers:

The videos are so ubiquitous that analysts and police debate whether they are serving the public interest — or undermining public trust in law enforcement and even putting officers’ lives in jeopardy. …

“The proliferation of cheap video equipment is presenting a whole new dynamic for law enforcement,” says Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union. “It has had a chilling effect on some officers who are now afraid to act for fear of retribution by video. This has become a serious safety issue. I’m afraid something terrible will happen.”

To be fair, the article does look at the other side, the point of view of defense lawyers and cop-watchers. But the law-enforcement people quoted in the article don’t look at the other side. Nor does USA Today appear to probe much into the validity of their claims. They don’t ask, “How could video hurt a cop — if the cop’s own actions weren’t already hurtful?” They don’t ask, “Isn’t the public interest served by the truth?” Or “Isn’t it perhaps a good thing for people not to trust law enforcers who act like thugs?”

And you can’t read an article about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that doesn’t repeat some equally blind-minded claim that they, with their releases of Pentagon information, are somehow going to cause deaths in Afghanistan or Pakistan. THEY are killing people? WikiLeaks and Assange? Even largely favorable articles like this one seldom stop to point out the obvious. It takes an anonymous and unpaid commenter to say it:

Funny how the president and his hand-wringing lackeys have yet to express much angst or outrage over the facts revealed to the world by the Wikileaks documents: atrocities committed in the name of the American people, violations of the Geneva convention, disregard for fundamental human rights, and the obvious failure of the “War on Terror” to do anything but expand the hatred of America. That doesn’t seem to worry them a bit. And isn’t it funny how they don’t seem to have a problem with leaks if they end up in the hands of sufficiently obedient stenographers in the mainstream media who as the helpful fools they are can further the administration’s propaganda goals?

How could WikiLeaks harm anyone — if the U.S. government hadn’t already put them in harm’s way?

No, it’s always the whistleblower, always the honest cop, always the truthtelling child of the family who gets blamed as the “cause” of the harm that any clear-eyed person should be able to see is actually caused by others.

Revealing a terrible wrong isn’t the same as “snitching” — though I grant that there’s a fuzzy line between the snitch and the good citizen, between the rat and the truthteller who’s merely trying to right a wrong. But the line is there. If the aim is personal gain, currying favor with authority, or some such slimy motive, then yes, it’s snitchery, and is the act of the lowest sort of slimeballs. If the end result is to bring trouble down on the head of someone who was doing no harm, then of course it’s damnable. But if the aim is to correct an error, uncover a coverup, empower the powerless, or prevent (or undo) harm to an innocent, then the whistleblower, the good cop, the truthtelling child deserves the highest respect.

And nearly always gets clobbered.

This trait of human organisms, this blaming of the light-bringers, is so bizarre it sometimes makes me feel like a member of an alien species. I don’t understand it. Not. At. All.

But one thing I know for sure: There’s little to no difference between the way blood kin and larger organizations act. It’s all one big dysfunctional family.

I write this not merely to get a very heavy old something off my chest. I write it in hopes that some young would-be truthteller will see it — and not change his or her actions one little bit. But maybe be a little better prepared when he finds himself beaten, rather than honored for bravely doing the right thing. You are not alone, and some of us out here do thank you.


  1. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal October 19, 2010 10:42 pm

    Good, honest cops? Next you’ll be telling me you plow your garden plot with a team of unicorns!

    Yes, I have noticed that telling a truth that threatens a person’s view of “the way things are” is not a popular thing to do. Whether it is saying that Aunt X is a spiteful gossip, or that the emperor has no clothes, those who don’t want to see it will get mad at you for suggesting such a thing- and will still not see it.

  2. naturegirl
    naturegirl October 20, 2010 2:36 am

    Deflecting the attention is another one of the more modern ways of cover ups……take the focus off the message – slaughter the messenger……what’s encouraging is that it doesn’t seem to be slowing down the light bringers all that much……I haven’t decided which is worse: the fact that someone would even think of spinning it that way, or the fact that it works as often as it does…..

    It’s yet another example of the lack of respect for any common sense &/or decency for other human beings……

  3. suzan
    suzan October 20, 2010 2:57 am

    Thanks, very timely article, I really needed the encouragement. Over the last few years, we’ve lost a lot of friends and alienated family due to our truthtelling. First, our motives are questioned, then we’re finally dismissed as being eccentric or crazy – to be avoided. Shooting the messenger is hugely popular these days, and reinforced by the media. I no longer recognize the world we live in.

  4. Kevin3%
    Kevin3% October 20, 2010 6:18 am

    “Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
    Can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my companions
    Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
    All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon ?
    There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.”

    Bob Dylan

    injustice can not last forever!

  5. Scott
    Scott October 20, 2010 9:16 am

    Amen and hallelujah.. I managed to tick off one entire side of my family by refusing to “help” some “unfortunate” relatives. Translation-they’d drank up all their money(“crazy check”) and were looking for other people’s money to drink on. All I said was “I don’t give drunks money”. The same applies to any large organization-not going along with the flow will come down on you hard. The thing to keep in mind though is most people really are pretty decent,and want to do the right thing. I’m nowhere near perfect(can’t even see it on the horizon), and try to listen to what othere have to say..

  6. bumperwack
    bumperwack October 20, 2010 9:38 am

    beware people! It’s always “easier” to shoot the messenger, rather than heed the message…does speak to the overall moral decline tho….

  7. Claire
    Claire October 20, 2010 10:24 am

    Several of you have used the phrase “shoot the messenger” — and I think that’s part of the problem. I didn’t even think of that phrase, though, because when I think of shooting the messenger, I always envision punishing some poor hapless character who’s been ordered by a king or a general or some other mucky-muck to deliver bad news — news with which he may have only the most tenuous connection. It’s clear to any reasonable sould that that person is innocent.

    The scorn and dreadful punishments heaped on whistleblowers, honest cops, and truth-telling family members seems a whole different level of creepiness. Since the person is usually an integral member of the very group being exposed, the questions of loyalty, courage, and responsibility are more complex.

    Nearly everybody agrees that shooting a “mere” messenger is outrageous. The fact that so very, very many people think it’s right and good to punish a whistleblower or a person who tries to prevent a violent crime committed by his own peers … that, to me, is a different order of scariness.

  8. Samuel Adams
    Samuel Adams October 20, 2010 11:00 am


    A lot of cops’ lives are endangered when someone video tapes a police encounter gone nasty. But it isn’t the video taper who endangers the cops, it’s the cops who turn nasty. The classic here is the guy who taped the Rodney King beating.

    Cops need to realize that this “thin blue line” crap is getting them killed. Some do get it, but not enough.

    This includes “testilying” “[i]f one cop lies on the stand, 30 will swear to it.” Gary Stowell, 60 Minutes, December 3, 2000.

  9. Winston
    Winston October 20, 2010 11:05 am

    Actually I can sort of sympathise with cops…well, to a certain degree.

    “Police brutality” is more often than not just a card played by lawyers and the shitbags that they represent in court. It doesn’t even matter if a beating was in total self defense…they’ll edit out the part of the video where the perp was trying to stab someone, so it only shows a poor guy on the ground crying and flailing around while cops beat on him. Juries love that stuff.

    On the other hand though, videos of cops beating up harmless picketers who didn’t want to leave, or pulling someone out of the car and handcuffing them just because they have a CCW…Well, lets just say that’s the main stuff that keeps me from considering law enforcement as a viable career.

  10. naturegirl
    naturegirl October 20, 2010 7:04 pm

    RE Claire’s redirect to the point of who the messenger is

    Unfortunately once one of those messengers pops the can open, not a lot of research goes into the dynamics of why that person went public/to the authorities….aside from the ease of instant notoriety that seems to come with truth telling (of important vast public consuming issues), it’s not usually known if they had caused that person to not be “one of them” anymore or the individual’s discord along those lines….I bet something happened that made that person step out of the inner circle and the news spreading followed….

  11. Ellendra
    Ellendra October 20, 2010 8:00 pm

    Winston: that’s a good argument for cops to videotape everything they do. That way, they can show the part where the perp was trying to stab them.

  12. Ellendra
    Ellendra October 20, 2010 8:02 pm

    “This trait of human organisms, this blaming of the light-bringers, is so bizarre it sometimes makes me feel like a member of an alien species.”

    This, and many other human traits, are the reason I take comfort in my elven-ness :p

  13. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal October 20, 2010 9:15 pm

    Ellendra- are elves as much fun as faeries?

  14. Ellendra
    Ellendra October 21, 2010 7:46 pm

    Less hyperactive, but yeah

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