As the public impeachment inquiry drags on, many local residents - at least, those who don't have to work during the day or at all - are complaining about missing their TV shows. Many readers indicated they wouldn't be watching, because whatever their position, the spectacle of politicians ripping each other apart is causing them stress.

But one undercurrent running through the proceedings has not gone unnoticed by those who are at least peripherally keeping up with current events: the demand by the Republicans to expose the identity of the so-called "whistleblower," and the determination of Democrats to protect that person. In this case, if in no other, the Democrats are correct.

Whether the whistleblower is rendering an accurate accounting of what happened is impossible for Americans to judge from their armchairs. They will have to hope - albeit without much hope - that the "public servants" in Congress will be able to set aside their partisan blinders at least long enough to make a rational determination. Then, they can decide whether the report describes actions that constitute impeachable offenses.

Whatever the results may be, the call to reveal the identity of the whistleblower is wrong on so many levels it's impossible to detail them in a few inches of text. In fact, deliberate exposure could be illegal. The Whistleblower Protection Act shields federal government employees or contractors from retaliation or other punitive actions when they report that potentially nefarious activities have occurred. This could include a flagrant violation of the law, mismanagement or waste of taxpayer money, abuse of authority, and more.

It appears that certain people in Congress, if not the president himself, would like to publicly name the whistleblower because they are convinced he or she is lying. If that's the case, it's not a stretch to imagine they'd like to either ruin that person's career, or at least put him or her in the cross-hairs of Trump's base. But that short-sighted view could come back to haunt them at some point.

If the whistleblower is outed, it will set a precedent for others who might observe malfeasance in a future Democratic administration. Once the shoe is on the other foot, those now making the most noise will be singing a different tune. Furthermore, ignoring the protections of the law will discourage other people from coming forward, out of fear they'll be fired, publicly humiliated, or even physically harmed. Most Americans can think of a few politicians who would love nothing better than a clear path to engage in illegal or deplorable behavior, without fear that a "stool pigeon" might be lurking about.

Naming the whistleblower could have other chilling effects. Most companies have policies that will protect employees who come forward to reveal wrongdoing by a supervisor. If government whistleblowers can't be protected, some companies may very well reason that private-sector employees don't need such privileges, either. Whistleblowers play a vital role in keeping elected officials on the straight and narrow. They have served as confidential sources whose identities media outlets have refused to reveal, at least until the dust has cleared. The best example is Deep Throat, who turned out to be Mark Felt - a man well-positioned to know about the rot at the core of the Nixon administration.

Confidential sources at whatever level must be protected. Otherwise, the fate of our system hangs in the balance.

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