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The Insider Ethics Essay

The Insider: From an Ethics Perspective

The Insider was an excellent movie that depicted a multitude of ethical dilemmas. Although the focus of the movie surrounds the two main characters, Jeffrey Wigand and Lowell Bergman, there is unethical behavior behavior existing amongst these individuals and everyone in their surroundings. The film's depiction of ethics is a perfect example of what situations one can face in the modern business world. Some of the ethical issues in the film include falsification, honesty, abusive and intimidating behavior, lying, conflict of interest, libel, and an overall lack of social responsibility.

The overlying issue over the entire movie, and the reason for the 60 Minutes broadcast is the completely unethical behavior of the tobacco industry. The industry is guilty of committing several unethical behavior multiple times. First, since the day the FDA announced that cigarettes are damaging to the lung, throat, and body in general, the tobacco industry is providing a damaging product knowingly to its consumers which is a complete lack of social responsibility towards its stakeholders.

Also, the complete reason for the 60 Minutes broadcast was to show America that the tobacco industry has also been lying about the contents in cigarettes especially nicotine. According to the tobacco industry, nicotine is not addictive and was stated so in front of Congress, but Jeffrey Wigand, who worked with the substance as a chemist, says that it is the exact opposite. Wigand says that “the tobacco industry is a nicotine delivery business...” and tobacco companies add ammonia to the cigarettes so the nicotine can be absorbed into the brain faster, so customers can get “their fix”. Although the tobacco industry is not the only party guilty of unethical behavior, but every other unethical party is guilty because of the heavy burdens caused by the tobacco industry's decisions.

Towards the beginning of the film, when Wigand loses his job and first speaks to Lowell Bergman, he has a meeting with the management of Brown and Williamson the tobacco company. The meeting first was to arrange Wigand's benefits and severance package concerning his firing. After those details are disclosed to him, the management team along with lawyers explain to Wigand that if he doesn't sign a strict confidentiality agreement, none of those options will be available. While trying to convince Wigand, the management team uses intimidation and threats to force Wigand into signing the contract for his family's best interest. The reason that Brown and Williamson were so forceful with the contract is because they knew without it Wigand would reveal the truth about the nicotine and content of their product. This is unethical behavior towards their Wigand as well as their stakeholders and is just more evidence that the tobacco industry.

A less significant ethical issue that occurred is the initial relationship between CBS producer Lowell Bergman and Jeffrey Wigand. This relationship should have never occurred and been dismissed immediately because Wigand signed the confidentiality agreement and the information that Bergman would be looking for was going to be information that was covered and protected by that agreement. Wigand decided however, that he wanted to continue to speak with Bergman about the potential interview


Howard Rosenberg / TELEVISION

Inside 'The Insider': When Economics, Ethics Collide

"60 Minutes" instead runs a timid and vague Big Tobacco piece that doesn't mention Wigand's name. It runs the Wigand interview only months later, after his comments become public record in an anti-tobacco lawsuit, and after other media report much of his story.

Bergman is furious about this entire chapter and feels betrayed. Wigand is devastated.

Run credits, go home.

"The Insider," however, is much more than a good guys/bad guys tug-of-war over a single story.

At its heart is a cautionary tale about conflict-of-interest perils in today's ever-incestuous media sprawl, one in which corporate marriages and alliances relate everyone on some level to nearly everyone else. Often, reporters aren't even aware of the ties.

This sinkhole is not unfamiliar to the Los Angeles Times, following stunning revelations that its Oct. 10 Sunday Magazine devoted to the new Staples Center was prepared by the paper's editorial staff, unaware of an agreement to split half the profits with the center, something publisher Kathryn Downing has acknowledged was a mistake.

"The Insider" brings the issue of ethics vs. economics into even higher relief.

In his interview with Bergman, Wigand had accused Thomas Sandefur, then president of B&W, of perjury when joining other tobacco CEOs in telling Congress they did not believe nicotine was addictive. He also charged the company with aborting his search for safer cigarettes and firing him after he protested its use of a cancer-causing flavor additive in pipe tobacco.

Although B&W has issued denials across the board, Bergman, Wallace and Hewitt had sufficient confidence in Wigand to plan running his damaging interview.

Until corporate CBS interceded.

By the way, when CBS did kill the Wigand interview, the network was controlled by Laurence Tisch and his family. The Tischs also ran Lorillard Inc., a tobacco firm that was negotiating with B&W to purchase several cigarette brands. And Tisch's son was one of the tobacco CEOs who had testified before Congress along with B&W's Sandefur.

Perhaps even more telling, "The Insider" notes that CBS Inc. feared that a threatened B&W multibillion-dollar lawsuit over the Wigand interview would kill a pending sale of the network to Westinghouse Electric. That sale was expected to earn top CBS executives millions from stock options, and later did.

As critics everywhere are pointing out, "The Insider" should not be taken entirely at face value.

Hewitt and Wallace have accused director Michael Mann of dramatic license in the extreme, of colluding with Bergman, a consultant on the film and a friend of Mann's, to make him a hero at their expense.

B&W has weighed in, too, charging that Wigand lied, for example, about the death threats against him that are in the film. Big Tobacco--yes, that's a group you can trust.

How fragile credibility is.

The movie's hyperbole notwithstanding, who would not be suspicious of the network's motives in quashing the Wigand interview? True or not, the conflicts-of-interest scenario has a plausibility that can't be ignored. And because perceptions often blend into reality, it's no wonder that Americans appear increasingly skeptical about media integrity.

At least they're now seeing a bit of the hard work reporters put in, for "The Insider" is also the first movie since "All the President's Men" to project a true sense of the tedious groundwork often underlying the best journalism.

Alan J. Pakula's 1976 political thriller put a relentless tail on Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they investigated Watergate, slogging with them through a thick swamp of frustrating missteps, blind alleys, rebuffs, stammering phone interviews and monotonous detail work en route to front-page glory and a Pulitzer.

The result was glamorous, but not the laborious process that got them there, even though Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were the actors playing these reporters on the screen.