Ridenhour Prizes Honor Courage, Truth-telling

On April 25, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., whistleblower supporters gathered for the annual Ridenhour awards ceremony.

The Ridenhour Prize recognizes individuals who demonstrate the “spirit of fearless truth-telling.” It is named for Ron Ridenhour, a whistleblower and investigative journalist.  This year, five individuals received prizes.  Congressman John Lewis received the Courage Prize for a lifetime of dedication to human rights. Eileen Foster, who blew the whistle on mortgage fraud, and Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who exposed deception in the military’s portrayal of the Afghanistan war, each received the Truth-telling Prize. The Book Prize went to Ali H. Soufan, author of “The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-­Qaeda.” The Film Prize went to Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon for “Semper Fi: Always Faithful.”

Activist Ralph Nader, who attended the award ceremony, afterward chastised the news media for their absence.

Sure, the Pulitzers, the Academy Awards, the Heisman Trophy and the many business awards may seem exciting. But protecting the health, safety and economic well-being of the American people is important and serious. It is hard to conclude that recalling millions of defective automobiles and dangerous pharmaceuticals, exposing serious contamination of drinking water, lies about the BushObama wars and the huge subprime mortgage crimes should be outside the realm of news coverage.

But this news or features blackout consistently prevails, at least in Washington, D.C., even when the annual Ridenhour prizes are given to heroic figures before packed audiences of notables at the National Press Club. Named after the late Ron Ridenhour, a Vietnam War veteran who wrote to Congress about the horrific massacre at the village of My Lai, this year’s recognitions went to truth-tellers from Countrywide Financial, Bank of America, the Pentagon, the FBI, and the Marine Corps.

Most whistleblowers do not receive even the modest public attention provided by the Ridenhour awards and some tell me that’s fine with them. What they want more than anything–more than their own careers and personal safety– is for someone to look into the problems they reported and FIX THEM. But, few whistleblowers receive that satisfaction. Superficial investigations and slap-on-the-wrist punishments for wrongdoers have become routine.  To be a whistleblower is to be Sheriff Kane as he desperately seeks help from the townsfolk he is trying to protect; except, when the clock strikes “High Noon,” rescuers seldom come.