The Insider (1999) is a film rife with ethical dilemmas, suspense and controversy.
It is based on a true story related to a 1994 episode of the CBS news show 60 Minutes
that never aired. The plot puts Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) at odds with Brown & Williamson, the third largest tobacco companies in the country. Wigand was fired from his position as Vice President of Research and Development, at which he was instructed to hide information related to the addictive nature of nicotine. The plot takes off when Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), producer for 60 Minutes, discovers that Wigand has a story to tell. The best way for Wigand to tell that story is with the help of Bergman, via an interview aired on 60 Minutes. However, tobacco companies have a history of viciously defending their profits, by whatever means necessary, and Brown & Williamson does just that. The story hits a climax as the interests and incentives of the television station CBS, 60 Minutes, Dr. Wigand and Brown & Williamson are played out.
Portrayal of Business
The film portrays business in an extremely negative light. It focuses on two
central conflicts – one between Brown & Williamson and Wigand, the other between
CBS Corporation and Bergman.
Brown & Williamson is the primary antagonist. The film is ripe with examples of
the bad things they do. Their principle, most damaging offense is deceit. They are
charged with covering up the addictive properties of nicotine and finding ways to exploit it to increase profits. For example, in Wigand’s interview for 60 Minutes, he says that tobacco companies view cigarettes only as a delivery device for nicotine. He also says they take advantage of the addictive properties by manipulating and adj...
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responsibility that power implies and the responsibility of media as a corporate watchdog.
It seems obvious that large corporations have a tendency to ignore the negative effects of their actions in favor of profit. This example, although sensationalized, still says to me that with power comes responsibility. It affirmed my belief that a corporation’s goal cannot be just to provide profit to shareholders, but there must also be an element of social responsibility.
It also made me think about media’s role in business. I think it should be just as
portrayed in this film. Bergman relentlessly pursued the truth, using a very credible
source. Too often today, media is spoon fed by corporations. Media has a responsibility to objectivity that can be important in keeping businesses honest. But, it’s really up to media to maintain that objectivity.
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