I had the misfortune of being in a room when “The Masked Singer” was on television recently.
If you haven’t seen it, good for you, but the basic premise is that some C-list celebrity dresses in an elaborate costume, sings a song, and our greatest minds — like anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy — try to deduce who is in disguise.
The judges scream ridiculous guesses — “maybe Barack Obama!” — and then the singer is revealed to be La Toya Jackson or someone else who we all thought had died 15 years ago, but evidently didn’t and now needs a paycheck.
It’s pointless, absurd, trivial and apparently is the top-rated show on television that isn’t football, but somehow still made me feel like I had a concussion.
The only reason I bring it up — aside from the rare opportunity to work La Toya Jackson into my column — is that another former reality TV personality, Donald Trump, is employing roughly the same level of sober seriousness, care and dignity to his quest to unmask the Ukraine whistleblower.
Early on Trump threatened “Big Consequences!” for the whistleblower and compared him to a spy, making a veiled reference to the fact that spies traditionally have been executed.
“I think that the whistleblower gave a lot of false information, and you have to see who the whistleblower is,” Trump tweeted Monday.
Last week, he tweeted: “Where is the Whistleblower, and why did he or she write such a fictitious and incorrect account of my phone call with the Ukrainian President? … Who is the so-called Informant [Democratic Rep. Adam] (Schiff?) who was so inaccurate? A giant Scam!”
And many Republican congresszombies are staggering into line. Kentucky senator and favorite Mike Lee playdate Rand Paul chastised the media for not publishing the whistleblower’s identity. “Do your job and print his name!” Paul said with Trump applauding at his side at a rally Monday night.
Fortunately, not everyone is following suit.
“I think whistleblowers have the right to remain confidential and that their privacy ought to be respected," Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said, according to Buzzfeed. He told other reporters that it is “misdirected” to put the attention on the whistleblower’s identity.
“The whistleblower statute is there for a reason, And I think we need to respect the law where whistleblowers are concerned,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune also said.
They’re right, of course. The reason we call them whistleblowers in the first place is because they sound the alarm on government corruption and are legally (not to mention morally) entitled to protection because there is a hell of a lot of risk that comes when they decide to put their own comfort and safety after a sense of patriotic duty.
The mistreatment of whistleblowers is not limited to one party. A pair who alerted Congress to the “Fast & Furious” episode during the Obama administration — whatever you think of that particular incident — later voluntarily testified before Congress. They were then subsequently retaliated against to the point that the government had to pay to settle a lawsuit over violations of the Whistleblower Act.
If we want to limit leakers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, we need a system that works and protects legitimate whistleblowers. If we let bullies in power, whoever they are, smash the whistle, we all lose.
But there’s a more fundamental point at play here: We don’t really need the whistleblower anymore.
Maybe early on, when all we had was a claim and Trump’s heavily redacted synopsis of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it might have mattered. That non-transcript can easily be read like a partisan litmus test, with enough in there for the right to grasp onto to validate their own viewpoint.
But since then, we’ve seen the whistleblower complaint in its entirety and virtually every item in it has been independently corroborated, either by the summary of the call or by public statements by White House officials or by testimony of senior diplomats.
And those people who have offered the corroboration have been criticized by the right. Former Rep. Sean Duffy, also once a reality television regular, seemed to question the loyalty of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukranian immigrant who served in Iraq and received a Purple Heart when he was wounded by a bomb. Duffy said on CNN that “I don’t know if he’s concerned about American policy. But his main mission was to make sure that Ukraine got those weapons."
Former deputy assistant attorney general and torture apologist John Yoo suggested Vindman might be engaging in “espionage.”
If that’s how they treat a wounded veteran, you can presume they’ll treat the whistleblower pretty much like a wolf treats a sheep.
Sen. Paul claimed the individual worked for the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and that wouldn’t be surprising, since he or she also worked for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and his national security team.
Even if we assume, though, that the individual is a far-left agitator, it doesn’t matter now. The facts are the facts. The allegation may have put the wheels in motion, but now it’s being fueled by a relentless flood of hard evidence and testimony. There is a constitutional duty to pursue the matter wherever it leads.
And if the whistleblower decides, on his or her own terms, to remove the mask, I hope that person is embraced by a grateful nation for a courageous, selfless and patriotic act.
And I really hope it’s La Toya Jackson.