The Insider

 

 

            The movie The Insider details the true story of Jeffery Wigand, played by Russell Crowe, a former corporate vice-president in the research and development sector at a major tobacco company who had been recently fired. Lowell Bergman, played by Al Pacino, plays the executive producer at CBS’s 60 Minutes. Bergman is working on a piece highlighting the addictive and detrimental effects caused by cigarettes.

    Bergman seeks out Wigand in an effort to have him assist deciphering complex documents produced by the tobacco company into layman’s terms as part of the expose. Wigand is hesitant due to the confidentiality agreement he signed upon his release from the company.  

            “When I talk to someone in confidence, it stays that way,” Bergman reassures Wigand during their initial meeting.

            “This issue is a drop in the bucket, I can talk to you about this but I cannot talk to you about anything else,” Wigand responses after seeing the documents for the first time.

            After the tobacco execs catch wind of Wigand’s association with Bergman they pressure Wigand to sign a stricter confidentiality agreement, using his health benefits as blackmail. Wigand becomes distraught because he has an ill daughter at home who relies on the medical benefits to sustain her health.  

            “We’ve drafted a supplement to your agreement that expands and defines what is confidential. We are very serious about protecting our interest, and we want you to sign it,” the tobacco CEO tells Wigand after finding out about his meeting with Bergan.

            The CEO and his assistant go on to list a myriad of repercussions they have in place if Wigand decided to tell his story. The elimination of his severance package, health care, and the threat of litigation were among the unconventional consequences the new confidentially agreement listed as a result if Wigand revealed insider information.

            After being followed by goons hired by the tobacco company, Wigand eventually decides to not only assist in interpreting the documents, but also to expose the tobacco industry entirely in an on-air interview with 60 Minutes. He reveals to Bergman the details of how the big seven tobacco CEOs knowingly went in front of congress exclaiming they did cigarettes were either addictive nor caused health issues, although they were well aware of the harm cigarettes cause.

            Although Wigand ends up making testifying in Mississippi court on behalf of Medicaid and even gives 60 minutes an interview, inevitably the entire piece is canned due to legal pressures applied by both the Tobacco Company and CBS, who would lose out on a lucrative deal stricken with the tobacco company to keep the interview quiet. The tobacco company even went as far as to serving Wigand with a gag order to prevent from speaking on the issue at hand to both the media and the court.

            When asked by Bergman if he would still like to tell his story in a Mississippi courtroom, even though it would result in him going to jail Wigand responds:

            “fuck it.”

            Not only did Wigand discover the drawbacks of being an honest American, but Mr, Bergman did also. The entire situation lead the tobacco company to pay CBS Corporation to keep the story quiet, or suffer the legal consequences. The more truth that Wigand tells in his interview, the more libel CBS could be found in litigation. The show was not aired, and Bergman found that he wasted his time. He then distributes the information to another news media outlet in an effort to finally get the information they had been fighting to make public brought to light.

            Wigand ended up losing his job, did a short stint in jail, and getting divorced from his wife. The tobacco company paid investigators to investigate his life in an effort to discredit Wigand’s story, in case perhaps he did release it. However Bergman provided journalist at the Wall Street Journal with the correct information. The Wall Street Journal then ran a front page story chastising the tobacco companies and news media outlets that planned on creating a smear campaign against Wigand. Eventually the truth came to light and CBS realized that airing the interview was the right thing to do.

            I found the film extremely interesting seeing as a communications major you are so avidly taught the values of maintaining honorable ethics in the field. It seemed to me that the execs at CBS set their ethics and loyalty to the public aside for a financial gain, instead of informing people internationally of the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes.  It seems unfortunate to me that an influential multi-billion dollar company would set such a bad example for future employees of the communications industry. They inadvertently sent a message that money is more important than honoring noble honesty expectations viewers hold to such an influential company as CBS.

ALICE Training

          On April 1st, 2014 my Mass Communications Laws & Ethics class found ourselves in the upstairs classroom in the Union on the University of Northern Iowa’s campus. The reason our meeting in this unusual location? Training on what to do in the event a school shooting occurs.
            After attending my weekly Campus Activities Board meetings, I swiftly headed to class, approximately 45 minutes late. When I opened the door at the back of the class, immediately all 40+ of the rooms occupants turned around and starred. Normally I’d be used to this as, I’m quite a looker. However because every eye in the room was laying upon me at that moment, I realized something was going on.
            Little had I known the class was in the early stages of the ALICE technique. ALICE stands for: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It was obvious that everyone was highly alert that day from the looks I was shot upon entering the room. ALICE was designed to increase student and faculty survival, decision making, and aftermath schools when school shootings occur.
            After watching a series of clips detailing a number of school and public shootings around the world, the University of Northern Iowa Campus Police went into detail about what should occur if an unfortunate incident like the ones in the clips were to take place here at UNI.
            First off students need to be alert at all time. Being aware of your surroundings; what room you’re in, exit points, and safety cards are key. Knowing your surroundings are key to initial escape, when possible. Another important aspect of being alert is knowing what’s going on around you. What are you seeing and hearing? Taking notice of these things are often times the key to identifying the assailant, which can help the authorities lead to a quicker arrest.
            The next step is Lockdown. When individuals are unable to safely exit the building mandatory lockdown must occur. Closing the blinds, locking the windows, silencing all cellular devices, placing signs in windows, quieting all occupants of the room, and securing the room through whatever means necessary are essential in the event a lockdown situation occurs. By securing the room, and placing the necessary cards in the windows, authorities can be alerted that people are still inside waiting to be rescued. The lockdown will also help slow the gun man’s access to students as he struggles to enter secured classrooms and offices.
            The I in ALICE stands for inform. As soon as the room is secured a designated person should contact the authorities, notifying them of the building name and room number the occupants are held in during the lockdown. It is essential that one notifies the authorities of the number of people in the room as well as of any injuries sustained, if any at all. Providing real time information can also be the key to capturing the assailant. This is why staying alert is important, because if you have any information that can help the police identify the gun man, you can relay that information to them in a timely manner.
            Counter, otherwise known as the ‘C’ in ALICE is one of the most important letters in the abbreviation. If the gun man tries to access the room this is what ALICE instructs students to do:

  1. Throw any and all items available to you at the assailant when he/she attempts to enter the room
  2. Once the assailant is down, one individual must take the lead along with at least three others to swarm the assailant. The team lead should grab the gun in a secure position, then the team of four should each grab a limb, arms and legs, and hold the assailant on the ground.
  3. Once the assailant is secured by the team of four, the gun needs to be secured.

Once the gunman and his weapon are both secured, students should begin to aid the injured.
            The final step in ALICE is ‘E,’ which stands for Evacuate. It was stated in our presentation that “shooting is a skill,” meaning if you are able to exit the building, do not run in a straight line. Assailants armed and trained to use riffles can hit targets straight on from nearly a mile away. Also by becoming aware of your surroundings you can choose the best evacuation method for you. Is it better for you to cover yourself and run or conceal yourself in bushes? You must decide. It is also imperative that if, when evacuating the building, you see police you head toward them.
            The importance of knowing what to do if a school or public shooting occur is imperative to your survival. Before walking into that classroom I had always envisioned myself in a superhero-esque mode if a shooting were to break out. I envisioned myself fighting off the attacker, securing the gun, and saving the day all by myself. Now I realize how unrealistic that scenario actually is. The ALICE training technique is a smart move on the all campus who make it mandatory. I believe that if every school in America teaches these tactics far less fatalities will occur during the next school shooting.
             

Chapter 6, Privacy

Memo

 

To: Communications Laws & Ethics Students
From: Isaiah Bradford
Subject: Chapter 6, Privacy

Since the inception of the United States in the mid 1700’s American have had concerns with privacy. Because of this this US government enacted the Fourth Amendment, which protects “the right to people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

A major component to privacy in various states includes false light, a privacy tort that involves making a person seem in the public eye to be someone he or she is not. When a plaintiff files a violation of privacy suit many factors must be considered including publication, identification, falsity, highly offensive, and fault.

Defenses against a plaintiff’s case include appropriation, or using a person’s name, picture, likeness, voice, or identity for commercial or trade purposes without permission. Other defenses include commercialization and right of publicity.

Famous cases involving privacy include Kareem Abdul-Jabar v. Oldsmobile, Rosa Parks v. Outkast, Rick Rush v. Tiger Woods, and Cox Broadcasting Corp v. Cohn.

Another major factor in privacy laws is intrusion, which is defined as physically or technologically disturbing another’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Often times we will hear this term in suits filed by celebrities against the paparazzi.

The relation between the Fourth Amendment which fights for privacy and the First Amendment is difficult aspect for the courts to navigate in these cases. Especially in cases involving public figures it is hard to decide what is considered “private” matters and which are free game for the press to report on. One star who is struggling with this issue is reality tv icon Kim Kardashian, who last year gave birth to a daughter with Kanye West. The couple has been fighting to create laws protecting celebrity children from the dangers that come along with the paparazzi.

 

Chapter 4, Libel

Memo

 

To: Communications Laws & Ethics Students
From: Isaiah Bradford
Subject: Chapter 4, Libel

Chapter two discusses the plaintiff’s right to file a libel suit.  Libel law is meant to protect an individual’s reputation. Human history has shown that individuals value their reputation because it is so heavily associated with the ability for that person to participate in societal and economic life.

Libel can be traced back to the execution of Socrates in 399 BC. Libel or slander can be a false accusation that results in the humiliation of its victim. Often times those who file libel suits seek damages from the defendant. Damages are monetary compensation that may be recovered in court by any person who has suffered a loss or injury.

Libel cases can contain an array of elements including republication, vendors and distributors, online libel, unknown publisher, identification including that of groups and in fiction, defamation, falsity, implications and innuendos.

Ultimately the defendant is ruled either at fault or not. If they are at fault the judge has determined that the defendant is guilty of the alleged libelous acts and damages will be determined.  

An important determining factor in ruling on libel cases is actual malice, which statements are made knowing they are false or with reckless disregard for its truth. For malice to be present the defendant must have had knowledge that the information they had given was false.

Many famous libel cases have involved public figures, who have required the law to create new approaches to these cases because of their special circumstances.

Famous libel cases include Oprah and the Cattlemen, New York Times v. Sullivan, Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, and most recently Tom Cruise v. US Weekly.

Chapter 3: Speech Distinction

Memo

 

To: Communications Laws & Ethics Students
From: Isaiah Bradford
Subject: Chapter 3, Speech Distinction

In a post-9/11 America speech distinction has become an important topic within the US government. Subjects including the burning of the American Flag, and promotion of terroristic or violent acts clearly are not covered under the first amendment. In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes enacted the Clear and Present Danger Doctrine, a doctrine that established restrictions on first amendment rights will be upheld if they are necessary to prevent an extremely serious and imminent harm.

In other words, first amendment protections are not absolute. Protecting national security is a sufficient concern to outweigh speech protection under certain conditions, including times of war.

This chapter also discusses speech assaults which include things like: offensive speech, fighting words, hate speech, current stand, and intimidation and threats, each of which is treated differently in the court of law depending upon the circumstances. Other major themes discussed within the chapter include speech in schools and speeches on religion, both of which are highly complicated and hinge on the intent of the language and level of threat associated to what is said.

A nice summary of the chapter are words by Justice William Brennan, which were written for the supreme court;  If there is a bedrock principle underlying the first amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive of disagreeable.” 

Chapter 2 Summary: The First Amendment

 

Memo

 

To: Communications Laws & Ethics Students
From: Isaiah Bradford
Subject: Chapter 2, the First Amendment

According to the text, Freedom of Speech in the United States of America at minimum stands against government restraints on speakers or the press. In 1931 it was ruled that the US government may only place prior constraints under very few circumstances including:
 

  • Obstruction of military recruitment
  • Publication of troop locations, numbers, and movements in time of war
  • Obscene publications
  • Incitements of violence
  • Forcible overthrow of government, or
  • Fighting words likely to promote imminent violence

However keeping these few exceptions in mind, the chapter makes it clear that the First Amendment has evolved since its creation in 1791. Over the past two hundred years the Supreme Court has interpreted it as a means to achieve specific social functions or advance fundamental values in the United States while still protecting the dissemination of harmful information via speakers or the press. 

The Pentagon Papers Vs. WikiLeaks

 

The similarities between the Pentagon Papers scandal of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the 2010 WikiLeak debacle are undeniable. Both deal with the leaking of top secret United States government documents that ended up splashed on the cover of every major newspaper in America, most notably the New York Times.

After working for the US government as a “war thinker” for several decades, Daniel Ellsberg began to identify a pattern that lead to the Vietnam War. According to documents that were later released via the NY Times since the Eisenhower Administration was in office US Presidents had been quietly plotting to attack Northern Vietnam for quite some time, after attacking blame was placed on N. Vietnam when the US Government claimed American naval ships had allegedly fired at by Northern Vietnam torpedoes. Ellsberg felt the secrets the government had been keeping were doing the American public a disservice. Ellsberg eventually leaked the documents to the New York Times and various other national newspapers. The leak helped end the unnecessary Vietnam War, lead to the impeachment of President Nixon, and new rulings on what the press could release in regards to secret documents.

The WikiLeaks scandal began in 2010 and was headed by an Australian man named Julian Assange. After allegedly receiving thousands of secret government documents from a military correspondent named Bradley Manning, Assange began to post the documents on a website he created called WikiLeaks. The documents covered everything from the Iraq war, US Diplomacy, and US relations with several countries around the world. “It was overwhelming and embarrassing [for them]” said The New York Times Editor and Chief, Bill Keller. The NY Times and several other US newspapers ran several front page stories from these documents over the next year.”It’s the government’s job to keep their secrets, it’s not our job to do it for them” Keller went on. Assange allegedly leaked these documents as a form of rebellious anarchy but eventually became a symbol of the fight for Transparency in the United States government.  Instead of ignoring the leaks the US Government publicly stated their displeasure for the leak of certain documents claiming the leak of this information would put national security at risk.

The similarities in these two stories are not simply that government documents were splashed on major newspaper covers all over the world, but rather that the American public demands transparency in our government. Several ethical questions arose in both scenarios when the New York Times was considering running these shocking stories. Are these documents real? Are they of public interest? These are just a few of the questions editors had to ask themselves before ultimately deciding that it is their duty to inform the American public of what’s going on behind private government doors and how it affects their lives.