When I was a little boy, the worst thing you could call someone without using a swear word was fink. Some adjectives usually preceded the f-word if it was to be delivered properly, and it was always said with a sneer or a scowl. I am told that this particular insult still carries significant implications on the school yard as well as the prison yard, although I no longer spend much time on either.
Recently, several respected news sources worked to perpetuate this juvenile mentality. In a post by Chris Gaither in the LA Times, “Strapped for cash? Report your company’s software piracy” and in a piece by Kelly Fiveash in Channel Register, “Turn in workmates, make
fat dollar a few quid”, both launched attacks on the practice of employees blowing the whistle on corporate misconduct. In this instance, the criminal act was theft, also known to us in the industry as software piracy.
So, in praise of rats, finks, squealers and snitches everywhere, I offer a short list of my favorite whistleblowers who have acted courageously to expose corporate wrongdoing.
- Jeffery Wigan, who, to use the language of Ms. Fiveash, was willing to snitch on his bosses and colleagues in big tobacco and expose the hidden practice of adding carcinogens to cigarettes (How many lives do you suppose this giant rat has saved?).
- Cynthia Cooper, who worked in secret to discover and expose the $3.8 billion fraud at Worldcom (Time Magazine named her one of their “People of the Year” for 2002).
- Christoph Meili, the only Swiss national ever to be granted asylum in the US, who revealed that his employer, a major bank, was destroying records of deposits from Holocaust victims, assets the bank was required to give to heirs of the victims.
Perhaps some people report crimes solely for the cash reward. The more noble part of me believes that most take action because they have a proper sense of right and wrong, because they have an irrepressible feeling of social responsibility, or because they won’t allow themselves to become the type of person who sits on their hands while a crime is committed.
Or maybe in the case of reporting software piracy, it is because they were offended by an employer that required them to use pirated software and forced them to be an unwillingly participant in the criminal act. Yes, perhaps this is also why such a large percentage of the finks refuse any monetary reward for their actions.
The Frank Serpico’s of the world don’t really care what names they're called. I prefer the simple term hero.