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:
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.