The 2012 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling was awarded to Eileen Foster, the whistleblower who exposed systemic corporate toxic mortgage fraud at Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage provider; and to Lt.Col. Daniel Davis, for bravely speaking out against senior military leadership and detailing the gross discrepancies between the reality on the ground in Afghanistan and the message of progress that is communicated to the US Congress and the American people.
The recipients of the ninth annual Ridenhour Prizes, sponsored by The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation, were honored at the National Press Club on April 25 – an event that gives us renewed inspiration year after year. Other honorees included US Representative John Lewis, author Ali H. Soufan for The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, and filmmakers Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon for Semper Fi: Always Faithful.
The 2012 Ridenhour Prize honorees are:
The Honorable Representative John Lewis
The Ridenhour Courage Prize
Often called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress. [More info here.]
The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling
Whistleblower Eileen Foster, the recipient of the 2012 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, exposed systemic fraud at the nation’s largest mortgage provider, Countrywide Financial. Her actions go a long way in exposing the fact that fraud on the part of commission-hungry loan officers — not borrowers lying on their loan applications — fueled the increase in toxic mortgages, which in large part gave rise to the 2008 economic crash. [More info here.]
Lt. Col. Daniel Davis
The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling
Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, the recipient of the 2012 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, bravely spoke out against senior military leadership and their deceptive portrayal of the war in Afghanistan. To date, he is the only active duty serviceperson to have detailed the gross discrepancies between the reality on the ground in Afghanistanand the message of progress that is communicated to the US Congress and the American people. [More info here.]
Ali H. Soufan
The Ridenhour Book Prize
Ali H. Soufan has been awarded the 2012 Ridenhour Book Prize for The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda. Soufan is one of America’s leading counterterrorism investigators; with The Black Banners, he has written the definitive history of al-Qaeda, and provides irrefutable evidence that torture is not only antithetical to American values, but produces false and dangerous information. [More info here.]
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize
Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon have been awarded the 2012 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize for Semper Fi: Always Faithful, the chronicle of one determined Marine, Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose quest to understand the reasons for his daughter’s early death pitted him against the organization to which he had pledged to be semper fidelis, or “always faithful.” [More info here.]
About The Ridenhour Prizes
The Ridenhour Prizes recognize and encourage those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society. The prizes are named after investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour, to commemorate his lifetime of fearless truth-telling and to inspire others to do the same.
In 1969,Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai— the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War. Although the upper echelons of the military establishment resisted his revelations, his dogged persistence eventually brought the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world at large.
Ridenhour later became a respected investigative journalist, winning the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1987 for a yearlong investigation of a New Orleanstax scandal. He died suddenly in 1998 at the age of 52. At the time of his death, he was working on an article for the London Review of Books, had co-produced a story on state militias for NBC’s Dateline, and had just delivered a series of lectures commemorating the 30th anniversary of My Lai.
The paradox of whistleblowers is this: They are thought of as heroes and treated as villains. Speaking truth to power, whistleblowers are crucial to the health of a free society and inevitably troublesome to the powerful. In a democracy, whistleblowing is one of the unlegislated checks and balances. Or, if investigative journalism serves an open society as a fourth estate, watchdogging the activities of the other three, then whistleblowers are a kind of fifth estate. They help to make organizations accountable and individuals responsible for their actions. Corporations and public servants can do nefarious things behind closed doors, but they never know who in their ranks will feel ill at ease enough to come forward and make wrongdoing public. …
Government bureaucracies and corporations are hierarchical, not democratic. Your immediate superior and those above you often have limited tolerance for dissent. Bosses and owners often have more dedication to the longevity and profitability of their organizations than they do to the public welfare.
“Doublethink,” George Orwell’s term, here comes into play. The psychological phenomenon behind it is called doubling. Say you are a mid-level functionary in a bureaucracy or corporation and you possess some truth that you know does not conform to your institution’s or your boss’s agenda. Doubling, splitting yourself into two, means you can hold true to your personal morality while maintaining a separate public or institutional morality. At home, you would never think to lie or to withhold truths that could injure your family. On the job, telling the truth may hurt not only your boss but your institution and therefore your livelihood and the health and safety of your family.
In such situations it’s helpful to be able to hold contradictory positions, to separate out your different selves or different lives. You can be a good person even while you do things that aren’t so good.
Doubling allows you to follow orders or to go along with the herd while imagining yourself a moral individual. But whistleblowers can’t manage to double or split themselves….They often speak of it this way:
“I had to do it; I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak up.”…
The Ridenhour Prizes were established by The Nation Institute and The Fertel Foundation in partnership with The Fund for Constitutional Government, Government Accountability Project, and Project on Government Oversight. For more information visit www.ridenhour.org.
Remarks by Rick Piltz on accepting the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling at the National Press Club inWashington,DC, on April 4, 2006.