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Experts available to speak on NYT publishing clues to whistle-blower’s identity

Transparency may become the whistle-blowers best protection, but it also increases risks, professors say

The New York Times recently published identifying details of the whistle-blower whose claims led Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

Experts from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications are available to speak with media on the journalistic ethics and legality of the Times’ decision. 

Doreen Gay Weisenhausis a senior lecturer at Medill and Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law. Her research interests include global trends in media law and policy and international press freedom. She can be reached at

Quote from Professor Weisenhaus:

“What's important to focus on here is that journalists are not obligated to protect government employees; their job is to provide information to the public and to add as much light, clarity and context to a situation as they can. It is obviously in the public interest to know this person came forward with information indicating possible abuse of power for personal political gain, and that there might have been internal White House steps to suppress the information. 

“The law recognizes that such issues are so important that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation if they come forward and report the information in the way the law prescribes within government channels, which this person attempted to do. On the other hand, if whistleblowers take a complaint directly to the media about the same issues, they have no protection and face repercussions, including prosecution.

“Yes, the whistleblower's identity can be used to weaponize the government's response to disclosures they don't like, but in the end, the more people who know who this whistleblower is, the more the person might be safe from retaliation because of the very protection he has under the law. In today's particularly politically charged environment, transparency may become this person's best protection.”

Christopher Benson is a lawyer and Medill professor teaching media law and ethics. As an attorney, he served as vice president and associate counsel for Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., the parent company of Ebony. He can be reached at

Quote from Professor Benson:   

“As a rule, journalists are expected to provide a thorough and accurate account of the day’s events. The objective is to provide the public with a solid factual basis for enlightened decision making. Identifying the source of the reported information adds weight to this process in that it allows the public to determine the credibility of the source and, thus, the reliability of the information.

“In evaluating the decision by The New York Times to report certain particularities about the whistleblower, we have to consider whether this report makes it easier to identify the source and subject that person to reprisal. There also is the impact this might have on the willingness of future sources to come forward. These considerations have to be set against the value the personal information might add to public understanding. In this case, it is arguable that the incremental value of the individual information does not outweigh the potential risks.”