Review: The Whistleblower

It's unfortunate that the genre of the whistleblower books is not one that includes lots of titles. What could be more fascinating than the story of a person who was a company insider and is now an outsider, telling all? It's even more interesting when one can read about the internal workings of a powerful multinational company. These companies are secretive and their employees, even the disgruntled ones, are quiet out of fear of the company. In this Internet age, it's easier to be an anonymous whistleblower.

The Whistleblower: Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman

by Peter Rost, MD. (Soft Skull Press, New York, 2006) 224pp. $14.95 paperback.

It's unfortunate that the genre of the whistleblower books is not one that includes lots of titles. What could be more fascinating than the story of a person who was a company insider and is now an outsider, telling all? It's even more interesting when one can read about the internal workings of a powerful multinational company. These companies are secretive and their employees, even the disgruntled ones, are quiet out of fear of the company. In this Internet age, it's easier to be an anonymous whistleblower. The website FuckedCompany.com was quite popular during the crash years of the dot-coms. A steady stream of insiders and laid off tech employees kept that website busy with news and rumors. Prominent websites like Wikileaks feature documents from governments and corporations that have been leaked by employees.

Companies in turn have figured out that anonymous criticism on Internet sites hurts their image, so there is an entire sector of tech companies which track what people, mostly consumers, are saying online about companies. They use automated serch robots which scan millions of websites, pages and forums, looking for talk about specific companies. These companies see proteting their brand image as something worth protecting with this Orwellian technology.

The penalties for whistleblowing deter many would be whistleblowers. One can leave a bad company, but whistleblowing is a public act that defines you as a “troublemaker,” or at least a disgruntled employee. If you hope to continue a career after leaving a bad company, becoming a whistleblower is not the most appealing option.

In The Whistleblower: Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman, author Peter Rost recounts his experiences as a whistleblower at Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Rost's account is interesting in that he was a vice president of marketing at the company, which is atypical--most whistleblowers are rank-and-file employees, not managers or executives. Rost has been a high level executive for Wyeth, another phrmaceutical company, before becoming a vice president at Pfizer. At Pfizer, Rost tried to stop the company from illlegaly marketing the human growth hormone Genotropin for non-approved uses. Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer are always looking for new uses for approved drugs, especially since they lose billions when proprietary drugs become available as generics.

After Rost blew the whistle on Pfizer's improper marketing of Genotropin, he found himself in a strange situation at Pfizer, which couldn't fire him because of changes in whistleblower protection laws. Rost even ends up being the last person in an office that has closed with all of the workers being moved elsewhere. He gets into the nitty gritty of corporate memos, lawyer consultations, newspaper stories—all of which provides a fascinating depth to the entire whistleblowing incident.

The Whistleblower is a fascinating, suspenseful tale of one person's struggle with a powerful, nasty multinational corporation, which ends up not being that powerful when it comes to one person speaking truth to power. The pharmaceutical industry, or Big Pharma, really needs to be eliminated. There are alternative ways to develop medicine for people without relying on an industry that prioritizes human greed over human needs.

Reviewed by Karen Elliot.