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February 26, 2015

A Whistleblower’s Horror Story

“This is the age of the whistleblower. From Chelsea Manning to Edward Snowden to the latest cloak-and-dagger lifter of files, ex-HSBC employee Herve Falciani, whistleblowers are becoming to this decade what rock stars were to the Sixties — pop culture icons, global countercultural heroes.

“But one of America’s ugliest secrets is that our own whistleblowers often don’t do so well after the headlines fade and cameras recede. The ones who don’t end up in jail like Manning, or in exile like Snowden, often still go through years of harassment and financial hardship. And while we wait to see if Loretta Lynch is confirmed as the next Attorney General, it’s worth taking a look at how whistleblowers in America fared under the last regime.

“One man’s story in particular highlights just about everything that can go wrong when you give evidence against your bosses in America: former Countrywide/Bank of America whistleblower Michael Winston.

“I visited with Michael in California last year and spoke with him over the phone several times in recent weeks. If you think you’ve had a tough year, wait until you hear his story.

“Two years ago this month, Winston was being celebrated in the news as a hero. He’d blown the whistle on Countrywide Financial, the bent mortgage lender that one could plausibly argue nearly blew up the global economy in the last decade with its reckless subprime lending practices.

“He described Countrywide’s crazy plan to give anyone who could breathe a mortgage in a memorable January, 2013 episode of Frontline called “The Untouchables,” a show that caught the eyes of several influential politicians in WashingtonThe documentary inspired Senate hearings and even the crafting of new legislation to combat too-big-to-jail corruption in the financial world.

“Winston was later featured in the New York Times as the man who “conquered Countrywide.” David Dayen of Salon described Winston as “Wall Street’s greatest enemy.”

“But today, Winston is tasting the sometimes-extreme downside of being a whistleblower in modern America.”

***

Read the full Rolling Stone piece by Matt Taibbi here.

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