The Temptation to Tell All

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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Very different workplace tell-alls... Public Affairs Books/Grand Central Publishing hide caption

itoggle caption Public Affairs Books/Grand Central Publishing

By now you've probably heard... Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has written a memoir about his years in the White House, and his boss? Well, he doesn't come off too well. Workplace memoirs — be they lightly fictionalized, a'la The Devil Wears Prada, thinly veiled a'la Confessions of a Video Vixen, or relatively straightforward — seem to flop only if they fail to dish the dirt. So, obviously, a contract with a fat advance is one of the reasons to write one, but why else? Maybe you want to set the record straight, or blow the whistle, or establish your place in history. And if you blog about your job, no matter how covertly, you're really doing it too. The only place I blog about my job is right here, in plain sight — how do you do it? And why?

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I hope all reporters (including those at NPR) have this kind of courage. I think many in the news media too often tow the line, if what they uncover does not meet the approval of editors or media owners. This is very unfortunate and has something to do with why we are in Iraq.

Sent by Truth Seeker | 2:23 PM | 5-29-2008

The effectiveness of whistle-blowing is selective. My daughters were abducted from Grand Junction, CO, with the obvious complicity of the Police Department and the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Appeals to the City Council, District Attorney, Chief Justice, State Attorney General, the Governor, numerous state agencies and the media were all ignored or set aside. What does it take for anyone to hear the whistle when it's blown?

Sent by Mike Abdo | 2:27 PM | 5-29-2008

I informed my executive director that the operations manager was being verbally abusive. Within two months, I was "laid off."
Shortly after I informed the executive director, I witnessed her doing the same thing to not only the operations manager, but her spouse, her secretary, and was made aware of the fact that she had been "flaming" one of her other directors via email.
I was the Corporate Compliance Officer for the organization, it was my job. Apparently, only as long as it didn't connect her to anyone close to her or may place a bad name on her organization. The whistle blower was also "laid-off" within six months.

Sent by lucy | 2:28 PM | 5-29-2008

Why does NPR insist on introducing the McClellan story by referencing the White House talking points? It's been going on all day.

Sent by Cletus Hemphill | 2:33 PM | 5-29-2008

Where I used to work, an employee was abusive to certain staff, patients and visitors. Because she was union, discipline had to arise from documented complaints. I was asked by a supervisor to help by documenting the problems. Only three of us (out of about 25) were willing to do it. This woman retaliated and made our lives miserable, sometimes putting patients in jeopardy out of spite for us. She was finally transferred off the unit. I believe what I did was the right thing, but I do not believe that the outcome was worth it because it only moved the problem--it did not solve it. Would I do it again? I honestly don't know. I don't believe that public employees should be able to treat the public the way she did, but I am not sure that the personal strife I suffered was worth it. I would have to think very long and hard about being a "whistle-blower" again.

Sent by Carol Ann | 2:38 PM | 5-29-2008

why are you focusing on this meaningless aspect when someone from the inner circle of the president is sharing about how we were manipulated into this war????

Sent by David Arfa | 2:39 PM | 5-29-2008

I am sure you wouldn't want to put this on the air, but after 10 years of being a swinger with my wife we separated and I began dating a transsexual woman. I was proud of her and of the relationship and decided to tell all my swinger friends about it. The ostracism was immediate and total. I guess that sometimes telling all the truth and setting the record straight just tells you who your true friends are.

Sent by wrenn nelson | 2:42 PM | 5-29-2008

I am a three-time whistle blower. Once when I was in the US Army. Once when I worked for a large, reference laboratory, and once after I worked for Colorado Public Radio. I started a blog called Colorado Public Radio Blog, which was later referenced by Current.Org.

Sent by Jimmy James Jr. | 2:45 PM | 5-29-2008

when bob kunzinger, the professor who spoke, wrote "prof: one guy talking", he certainly knew he could lose his job,,,but isn't his job to improve minds??? sometimes that means attacking those same minds and exposing the waste...

Sent by igor chertok | 2:48 PM | 5-29-2008

I hope you'll be able to post the title of the hospital memoir by the caller Adrianne.

Sent by Walter Pirie | 2:48 PM | 5-29-2008

In my previous seminary, I named names in a pattern of harrassment and abusive/aggressive behaviors by several faculty and administrators directed towards myself and other students. Verbal and psychological/ religious-based/ and threats of physical abuse are an unspoken shadow in many religious communities, particularly in more hierarchical structures. I did pay the price for this in being singled out for increased bullying, an attempt by my dean to have me thrown out of the seminary, being 'blackballed' out of a second seminary (and told that I should 'make the faculty misconduct complaint "disappear" if I wanted to be admitted). However, after two police complaints and some legal intervention, I graduated from that program fair and clear; transferred into a more radical seminary, and helped a half-dozen other students who had been through similar problems to transfer into safer seminaries. In the meantime, at my new school, I became founder of the student newspaper, and then chair of the student government, and was for a bit representative to the Board of Trustees. Eventually, back at the first place, enough students were empowered to complain about the abuses at the seminary that the accreditors became involved and two deans have departed; a third is trying to find a way to step down. I have been fortunate to be regarded by a 'hero' by many students and alumni of the school. And I'm less persona non grata now than I was previously :)

Here is the website for the organization we helped to start, Safe Seminaries, and the personal background page within that site: http://safeseminaries.org/11.html

ps--the organization I worked for before seminary, Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq, "named names" against Col. Nathan Sassaman whom you are interviewing right now, which I believe led to the circumstances in which he now finds himself. For us and for the sake of human rights, it was quite worthwhile. Here are some of the articles involved:

http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4DKUS_enUS267US267&q=Christian+peacemaker+teams+sassaman

Sent by Le Anne Clausen | 3:07 PM | 5-29-2008

McClellan was the front man, lying for the White House, lies meant to sell us on supporting the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq and its predictable subsequent horrors. He finally admits what we've always known is true, and you call it a tell-all? You compare it to telling gossipy tales about a boss you don't get along with? The right-wing's mission is to trivialize McClellan and his revelations and reduce them to no-you-di'nt! sour grapes. They may succeed with the 23% who are dead-enders, but the rest of know that McClellan's revelations are true, and not at all trivial.

Sent by Mike | 3:30 PM | 5-29-2008

Here's the point of my story: there are a lot of people working for the government, trying to do their work with integrity. As A.O. Hirschman wrote in his _Exit, Voice, and Loyalty_, they can soldier on ("loyalty"), risk talking things over with their bosses ("voice"), or leave and go public ("exit"). Most bureaucrats struggle over such things much of the time.
Things are more complicated than the public is aware. To illustrate: suppose you had for years earned highly favorable performance appraisals implementing affirmative action programs, only to see Ronald Reagan elected--do you redirect your enthusiasm to dismantling those same programs, play Schindler to slow down dismantling AA programs, try to talk Reagan's people out of their positions, or quit? Not so easy, huh? Anyway...

Thirty years ago, i was working for a federal regulatory agency, doing technical work to support new regulations. My boss started bending the laws of statistics. When i objected, he gave me an unaccepable performance appraisal. I quit and filed a grievance. I had to do all the work on my own; he did it as part of his job description, with full agency support. They chose the grievance examiner, and paid him for his time. He disallowed all prior performance appraisals from all my prior bosses--all irrelevant. I lost on all counts. No surprise.

Sent by bob letcher | 3:52 PM | 5-29-2008

I was terminated from my job of 26 years as a registered nurse on the open heart team at Cleveland Clinic, here in Cleveland, Ohio, two weeks after my memoir,
'Notes From the Mothership The Naked Invisibles'
was published.

My memoir started out as an attentive and unguarded discovery of self yet, it turned into a 'Tsunami of Hope' for nurses, healthcare workers, patients, doctors, and others who in their respective disciplines feel disenfranchised, devalued, and distanced in their respective workplaces.
http://adriennezurub.typepad.com

As the author, I became the vessel for literally hundreds of emails, phone calls, and comments.

An author can never predict how their literary voice will (hopefully) connect and resonate with readers.

Within my memoir, I did not name names. My characterizations were a compilation of persons over my thirty years as a registered nurse. Yet, the truth hurts. Especially when thousands or perhaps millions of dollars are allocated for slick marketing, branding and apparently world domination. My book did not fit in with maintaining a 'perfect' world class image.

As well, in dealing with hospital administrations, or this particular in one, there exists a 'culture of impunity.' Many hospitals are still bastions of sexism, gender wage disparities, and abuse in various forms.

What my former employer perhaps found distressing is that I actually had an opinion(s). In their eyes I would be so low in the hierarchy as not to matter or even register a blimp.

I had the courage (as I am told) to voice those opinions in a book. Still, my book is a memoir. Yet, my observations and experiences as a RN on that team were part of my holistic collage. Now, I realize how significant my role as an attentive nurse and writer have been.

Now, I am seen as the voice, an activist, and a hero to name the positive adjectives.
Would I do it again. Definitely!
Do I regret being terminated? No!
Do I want YOU to purchase the book?
Yes!
http://chasewunderlickpublishers.com.cn

Sent by Adrienne Zurub | 4:15 PM | 5-29-2008

The coverage of this story, whether print media, cable news, or this NPR program is focusing on Scott McClellan.This should NOT be about him. It's about how "W" bamboozled most of us into a stupid war. We suspected Bush was deceitful as well as ignorant and now we have further proof of the former. Is McClellan a "rat"? Who cares? Why the soap opera?

Sent by Richard Langtry | 5:05 PM | 5-29-2008

"Maybe you want to set the record straight, or blow the whistle, or establish your place in history"...or maybe...you have a conscience and with that conscience you might have a tough time sleeping at night, socializing, working, etc. You might even have a sour stomache, anxiety, depression, aches and pains...because you DO have a conscience and however frosted up the reasoning for invading Iraq was/is, it was all and will always be a big fat LIE, and all the casualties on both sides, astronomical funds needed to keep the war going, and all the vets that will need special care for the rest of their lives because of their injuries is the outcome of the invasion and still no end in site.

Sent by Bryan Coleman | 10:36 PM | 5-29-2008