On doing the right thing for less than noble reasons

Mark Felt Doing what's right

Mark Felt
Doing what’s right

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that the movers and shakers in Nevada City are less concerned about being caught pulling a fast one on the state than they are about who blew the whistle on them.

After all, the fink cost the city $22,500 it wasn’t planning to spend, the cost of hiring a full-time police chief six months earlier than they wanted to after somebody told CalPERS about the city employing a pensioner on a part-time basis.

Speculation about who sounded the alarm has included current and former employees, homeless advocates, and relatives of at least one elected official. About the only thing anybody knows for sure is that “A personal agenda was involved,” said ex-chief Jim Wickham. “So they got the last word because I couldn’t fight (CalPERS).”

People who blow the whistle always have an agenda; otherwise, they wouldn’t take the chance of being caught. As any political or government reporter in Sacramento and Washington can tell you, people are constantly providing tips designed to torpedo or promote a piece of legislation, a government policy, or an appointed or elected official.

Political operatives also employ the reverse of this, floating a trial balloon to see how much support or opposition exists for a pending proposal. If opposition is strong enough, advocates can (and do) say, “It was one of many proposals we were considering,” deep six the idea, and try something else.

Tipsters’ motives might not be pure, but reporters know they don’t do business with saints. Everybody they deal with is promoting something, and their response to a tip is simple: Is this true? If it is, they might have a story.

The most famous (or infamous, depending on your politics) tipster of recent times was Mark Felt, the deep throat of Watergate fame who managed to bring down a president of the United States.

Felt was a career FBI employee who was passed over by Richard Nixon for the top job at the bureau, so he got his revenge by feeding reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the basic information they needed to discredit the president.

Felt wasn’t operating from the ethical high ground, but that doesn’t make him unique. History is full of people who did the right thing for less than noble reasons.

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