Ethics in Whistleblowing: Whistleblowers and Freedom of Information in the Trump Era

Whistleblowers play a crucial role in ensuring transparency and face significant risks. Strong legal and social support systems are vital to protect them and maintain democratic integrity.

8 min readMay 31, 2024

In recent years, whistleblowing has become a vital and yet controversial element in political debates. These individuals, often operating in the shadows of governmental structures and corporations, provoke national discussions that challenge our understanding of loyalty, confidentiality, and ethics. However, in the process of whistleblowing, there is a complex web of ethical considerations — how can the duty to protect sensitive information be balanced with the necessity to expose wrongdoing?

In the realm of politics, this concept becomes even more contentious. It is here that the same information, while serving the public good and revealing certain secrets, can be manipulated in destructive ways. During the Trump era, whistleblowers exposed issues that not only captured media attention but also ignited intense debates about the role of transparency in maintaining the health of democracy. Through this note, I endeavor to delve into these ethical dilemmas and explore a balanced recovery of the meaning of whistleblowing in the context of freedom of information, seeking to understand the dual forces of protection and disclosure and their implications for individuals and the public sphere.


I hope that by the end of this note, we will reflect more on the vital role of whistleblowing in society and understand the delicate balance between protecting information, privacy, and ensuring governmental accountability. This understanding of past events will play a key role in defining the boundaries of freedom and transparency in governance.

The Role of Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers are often referred to as guardians of transparency, as they serve as vital conduits for the flow of information necessary for the improved functioning of a democratic society. Legally, a whistleblower is someone who exposes information or activities within a private, public, or governmental organization that are deemed illegal, unethical, or incorrect. The essence of whistleblowing involves a significant risk undertaken to promote transparency, accountability, and governance — values deeply embedded in democratic institutions.

During the Trump era, several whistleblowers emerged as key figures in unveiling misconduct at high levels of government. For example, the whistleblower complaint that led to the impeachment investigations in 2019 not only highlighted potential abuse of power but also illustrated the vital role these individuals play in maintaining governmental integrity. This act of whistleblowing initiated a nationwide controversy regarding the scope of presidential power and the role of government officials in holding leaders accountable.

Highlighting such examples can provide a tangible understanding of the significant impact whistleblowers have. Their actions often lead to investigations that can alter the course of policies, reshape public opinion, and sometimes, shift the trajectory of political power. However, the path of whistleblowing is fraught with challenges. Despite the vital role whistleblowers play, they often face severe consequences — both professional and personal — which underscores the precarious nature of their position.

In this context, recognizing and addressing the dual reality of whistleblowers as both protectors of the public good and vulnerable targets of retaliation is crucial. By examining pivotal moments and key figures from the Trump era, we can better appreciate the complexities involved in whistleblowing and the profound courage required to step into the light.

Ethical Dilemmas

Deciding to blow the whistle comes with numerous ethical dilemmas, involving a precarious balance between loyalty to an employer or government and a moral commitment to the general public. Whistleblowers often find themselves in a labyrinth of conflicting interests, where the decision to expose wrongdoing can lead to significant personal and professional consequences.

One of the primary ethical conflicts is the duty of loyalty. Employees generally have a duty of loyalty to their employers, which includes maintaining confidentiality and supporting the organization’s legitimate interests. However, when faced with flagrant violations that could harm the public or the state, whistleblowers argue that their ethical commitment to the public supersedes their loyalty to the organization. This conflict is especially pronounced in government settings, where the implications of whistleblowing can extend to national security or public safety issues.

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Moreover, the legal view of whistleblowers is complex and often insufficient to fully protect them from retaliation. While laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act provide some guarantees, the application of these protections can be inconsistent, and the legal battle for such claims faces numerous challenges.

For example, during the Trump era, whistleblowers faced intense scrutiny and harsh reactions — both from within the government and from the public — often being labeled as traitors or spies. These attacks could deter potential whistleblowers with the fear of professional ruin and personal hardships.

In addition to legal and personal risks, whistleblowers must also contend with the potential impacts on their colleagues and the functioning of their organizations. Disclosing sensitive information can lead to unintended consequences, including disruptions in legitimate governmental functions or harm to innocent individuals.

These ethical dilemmas highlight the complexity of the whistleblower’s role within the framework of freedom of information. By analyzing these conflicts, we can delve deeper into the decisions made by these individuals who aim to uncover wrongdoing and understand the necessities and risks involved.

The journey of a whistleblower symbolizes the broader struggles between transparency and loyalty, individual courage and collective security, all of which shape the landscape of modern governance.

The Impact of Whistleblowing on Public Policies and Public Opinion

Whistleblowing can have far-reaching effects on public policies and the general public’s opinion. These impacts are particularly evident in the evolution of legislative actions and media narratives in response to the revealed information. For example, whistleblowers during the Trump era had a significant impact on both areas, shedding light on practices that led to reviews and changes in public sentiments.

  • Impact on Legislation: The revelation of hidden information by whistleblowers often acts as a catalyst for the examination and amendment of legislation. For example, the disclosure of undisclosed interactions with foreign officials led to congressional hearings and discussions about increasing transparency and accountability measures in political campaigns and governance (Here). Such legislative actions are not only intended to prevent the recurrence of exposed issues but also help strengthen legal frameworks that support ethical governance.
  • Public Perception: Whistleblower revelations can significantly affect public perception of leaders and their institutions. The disclosed information can confirm suspicions, reveal unseen aspects of public figures, or expose systemic failures. For example, during the Trump administration, disclosures played a key role in shaping the narrative of managing sensitive national security issues and ethical governance. The resulting media coverage reinforces these issues, often leading to widespread public debates and a shift in public opinion regarding government transparency and accountability (Here, Here & Here).

The dual impact on policy and public opinion highlights the significant role of whistleblowers in democratic societies. By bringing critical issues to the forefront, they can initiate a series of checks and balances that might not otherwise be activated. In this section of the note, I delve into specific cases where whistleblower information has led to noticeable changes in policies or distinct shifts in public viewpoints, having tangible effects on the fabric of society.

Through the analysis of these impacts, we can better understand the vital role of whistleblowers in correcting immediate wrongdoings and also shaping broader discourse on governance and public accountability. This review will help frame the ongoing debate about the value of transparency versus the risks and consequences faced by those who dare to illuminate the shadows within our institutions.

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Challenges and Consequences

The path of a whistleblower is invariably fraught with significant challenges and potential consequences, both personally and professionally. These individuals often face a spectrum of retaliations from employers or governmental organizations, which can range from professional ostracism and demotion to legal actions and personal threats.

  • Retaliation Against Whistleblowers: Many whistleblowers during the Trump era encountered direct reactions that impacted their professional and personal lives. For example, those who exposed uncomfortable truths often faced extensive investigations, were removed from their duties, or were completely fired. This type of retaliation affects not only the individual whistleblower but also sends a chilling and deterrent message to other potential whistleblowers within the organization or industry.
  • Impact on Future Whistleblowing: Such behaviors and actions against whistleblowers can significantly influence the willingness of others to take action in the future. If potential whistleblowers see that previous whistleblowers have endured severe consequences without adequate support or exoneration, they may be discouraged from reporting misconduct. This creates a flawed cycle where vital information remains hidden, allowing unethical practices to continue unchecked.

These dynamics highlight the complex and often perilous road that whistleblowers navigate, emphasizing the need for stronger protections and support systems to safeguard those who risk exposing wrongdoing for the greater good.

Whistleblowers may also experience feelings of isolation, stress, and significant anxiety due to their decision to expose unethical practices, which can have profound emotional and psychological impacts on their personal relationships and mental health.

  • Legal and social support systems: Examining the available legal supports for whistleblowers, assessing their effectiveness, and identifying areas where they fall short is crucial. Furthermore, discussing the role of support networks and advocacy groups can highlight the importance of external support systems in providing assistance and support to whistleblowers.

By examining these challenges and consequences, this note addresses the significant risks faced by whistleblowers and the vital need for stronger supports and systems. This not only helps to raise readers’ awareness of the personal costs involved in whistleblowing but also encourages a broader discussion about how society and laws can evolve to support and promote ethical transparency. This perspective underscores the importance of the role of whistleblowing in protecting democracy and advocates for the improvement of mechanisms that protect and support these vital agents in the political landscape.

The ethical, legal, and social implications surrounding whistleblowers are vast and multifaceted. Throughout this note, I have explored the vital role of whistleblowers in maintaining transparency and accountability in both public and private sectors, especially under the challenging conditions of the Trump era. Discussions have not only emphasized the personal courage required to step forward but also highlighted the significant risks and consequences that whistleblowers face.

Whistleblowers can significantly impact public policies and shape public opinion, often acting as catalysts for legal and social changes. However, the challenges they face — from professional retaliations to personal hardships — underscore the urgent need for strong legal protections and support networks. Without these assurances, the possibility of future whistleblowing is jeopardized, which could stifle the essential flow of information necessary for a healthy democratic process.

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Reflecting on the ethical dilemmas and narratives that whistleblowers encounter invites us to contemplate our values and the kind of society we wish to foster. Are we prepared to support those who risk everything to reveal the truth? What measures can we take to ensure the support and encouragement of whistleblowers?

Ultimately, the discussion on whistleblowing should continue with an emphasis on enhancing supports and fostering an environment where transparency prevails. As readers of this newsletter, we should reflect on the essential value of whistleblowing in maintaining governmental accountability and advocate for a framework that not only protects whistleblowers but also honors them. Our commitment to this issue will define the integrity and resilience of our democratic institutions against future challenges.




Entrepreneur & Product wizard who merges creativity with technology at, enjoys songs & stories. Ex-Journalist & narrator of #FreedomNarratives