The force of speaking truth to power

By Thomas Farragher GLOBE COLUMNIST  FEBRUARY 26, 2016

Anyone poring through a good reporter’s tip file would come to the same conclusion that I reached a long time ago. The ratio of wheat to chaff is about 1 to 25. And that’s being generous.

So when a good tip lands in your mailbox, your inbox, or your voice mail, you perk up and pay attention.

I thought I had one this week. It went like this: A longtime public servant in a small suburban town has unjustly landed in his boss’s crosshairs. The guy faces demotion or termination. Supporters are outraged.

“He is simply loved,’’ the tipster’s e-mail read. “He is a great, hard worker. He is always there to help anyone in need. . . . He is the best.’’

Great. Let’s talk turkey. But when I wrote back to get details, the tipster suddenly grew reluctant, insisting on anonymity and leaving me to my own devices. The public servant in question is constricted by legalisms and lawyers.

And so the tale of what might be a beloved figure being unfairly maligned — perhaps even persecuted — goes untold. At least for now.

There’s an old saying that — roughly paraphrased — goes like this: Bad things happen when good people remain silent. It turns out that courage is a rare commodity. That’s why it is so celebrated.

The courage to speak truth to power has been on my mind this week. There was an emotional hearing Thursday at the Harvard School of Public Health. State officials are examining Boston Children’s Hospital’s $1 billion expansion plan. Part of that plan includes the destruction of the Prouty Garden, an emerald oasis for sick children across six decades.

The hospital says it needs that space in order to better treat little kids. Garden supporters want the hospital to build somewhere else.

Amid the ensuing cacophony, there have been doctors willing to place their careers on the line to speak up to an administration that insists it has nowhere else to grow. It’s a phony argument and one of the most prominent pediatricians of the 20th century has said so.

He is Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, whose advice to America’s parents across multiple generations about how best to care for their babies has made him a national treasure.

He works at Children’s and wishes more doctors would raise their voices. “They don’t do it because they’re afraid,’’ Brazelton, 97, told me before Thursday’s hearing. “I’m so old they can’t do anything to me now.’’

Thank goodness for people like him.

And for people like Dennis Burke, the star orthopedic surgeon who had the courage to tell our Spotlight Team about his concerns over concurrent surgery — or double-booking — at Massachusetts General Hospital. Burke was fired for cooperating with the Globe but he left with his integrity fully intact.

And for people like Karen Jackson, a Milford probation officer, who was willing to tell us — at great personal risk — about the rigged hiring system at the state Probation Department that blocked her from getting a promotion she’d earned. A politically wired candidate got the job instead. A scandal erupted and senior probation officials were convicted in federal court.

They’re handing out the Academy Awards on Sunday night and the film “Spotlight” is up for a half-dozen of them. The movie is based on the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002.

In February of that year, I sat in the rectory of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon with a good and thoughtful priest, the Rev. Robert W. Bullock.

The pastor was an outspoken critic of how the Catholic Church’s hierarchy was handling the crisis — a moral scourge that had been whispered about for years.

“There is among us all some kind of varying degree of collective responsibility that we knew, or were aware at some level of our consciousness, that there was this disorder that was present,’’ Father Bullock, who died in 2004, told me. “And we were disinclined to make an issue out of it.’’

He said, with regret and candor, that priests were not accustomed to standing up to power, to taking risks, to having “the courage of our convictions.’’

Silence has its consequences. Courage of conviction is the precious raw material that makes all the difference.