An Analysis Of “The Insider” Movie From A Journalistic Point Of View
Synopsis of the movie
An “insider” is one who has special knowledge or access to confidential information. He/she is usually an officer of a corporation or someone who has access to private information about the corporation’s operations. The movie “The Insider” centers on the true story of such a kind of person.
Jeffery Wigand (Russell Crowe) was the insider. He was the head of research and development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company until he was fired for objecting to the company’s desire to spike the nicotine content of their smokes with chemical additives, causing the addictive substance to be more rapidly absorbed into the lungs and body tissue. He was laid off with a huge severance pay and was obliged to sign a confidentiality agreement to keep him from revealing inside information.
Everything was relatively going well until Wigand met a media insider named Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), the producer of “60 Minutes”, a regular CBS show. The long and short of it is that Bergman was able to convince Wigand to sit for a videotaped interview with Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer). In the interview Wigand told Wallace that tobacco companies, despite their denials before a congressional hearing, knew full well that cigarettes were addictive and harmful. When the tobacco company executives learned of the interview, they wasted no time to try to suppress Wigand. In not time Wigand got pressured by death threats, the collapse of his marriage and the restrictions of the confidentiality agreement he previously signed.
The CBS management objected to the airing of the Wigand interview in the “60 Minutes” show. The reason behind their objection is the management’s fear of a possible legal action that might be taken against the CBS network by Brown & Williamson and also because it might derail the network’s impending billion-dollar merger deal with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
Both Wigand and Bergman faced a lot of challenges, but in the end the interview was finally broadcasted which eventually had tremendous effects both for Brown & Williamson and the CBS network. In sum the movie tells us that: a huge tobacco corporation lied, an insider had damning information, and investigative journalists put it on air. On the whole, the movie is not just about the outcome of the courageous actions of Jeffrey Wigand and Lowell Bergman, but it also about how these two insiders became victims of the schemes, corruption, frauds, distortions, lies and manipulations of the media.
Journalistic problems presented in the movie
One of the dialogues that made a deep impression on me was that of Don Hewitt and Lowell Bergman.
DON HEWITT: You’re exaggerating
LOWELL BERGMAN: I am? You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out. To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television. I do. I deliver him. He sits. He talks. He violates his own fucking confidentiality agreement. And he’s only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history. And Jeffrey Wigand, who’s out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth? Yes. Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he’s not telling the truth? No. Because he is telling the truth. That’s why we’re not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!
I think that dialogue summarizes the main point of the movie and shows the complexities, challenges and moral conflicts of journalism. The movie tackles a number of journalistic problems – foremost of it is how a media network would try to suppress truth in order to protect its own financial interest. It’s an obvious matter of conflict of interests on the part of the network. The main reason why the CBS executives tried to hamper the airing of Wigand’s interview was that it would imperil the potential merger of the network to Westinghouse – a deal which some CBS executives would have profited from.
Another journalistic problem presented in the movie is how some journalists would bow to the pressures exerted by media owners. Mike Wallace was on the side of the CBS management when the conflict emerged. He was more particularly concerned with his legacy than his journalistic integrity. And Wallace was not alone. Don Hewitt also blinked under pressure from CBS’ corporate eye. In short, there are some journalists who give in to corporate demands over truth.
I think the worst journalistic problem explored in the movie is how journalists, network executives and media owners manipulate people, truth, and events. The validity of Wigand’s claim that tobacco owners manipulate nicotine levels and lied to Congress about nicotine addiction was unquestionable. It was truth pure and simple. But rather than broadcasting this truth, the CBS managers and editors wanted to squash it completely. They have censored the truth to please the rich and powerful owners of their network. The CBS management also even wanted to keep under control the people responsible for bringing it into the open. For me it is a kind of self-censorship and it is a grave danger to the freedom of the media. It is a lapse of journalistic integrity to mum journalists and their sources, and it has made the impartiality in journalism a mere pretension.
Towards journalistic integrity
The movie has given us an insightful look into the world of media networks and investigative journalism. Its spotlight is thrown on how people, truths and facts can be manipulated by the media. It has particularly shown us the lowering of CBS network’s journalistic standards. When the balance sheets of the media network are at stake, they will do everything to protect their finances, including suppressing truth even. The movie has also shown us that there is some legitimate concern involving the worries that mass media mergers may result in the network being compromised and pressured to advance their corporate bosses’ interests. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. As has been discussed above, many other violations against journalistic integrity are dealt with in the movie.
If there is one thing that needs to be emphasized after watching the movie, it is that news gatherers, reporters, journalists and editors must reaffirm their responsibility towards journalistic integrity. Journalism is about truth-telling, independence, and objectivity. A good journalist is one who reports the news objectively, pursues the truth aggressively, and acts within the network independently. Conflicts of interest occur when journalists face competing loyalties: to a source or to their own self-interest, or to their network’s economic needs, as opposed to the information needs of the public. News gatherers, reporters, journalists, and editors should embrace objectivity and truth closely, not only as standards and core principles of journalism, but also as essential elements of accuracy.