1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
2. There are three people portrayed in this film who could be thought of as “The Insider.” Who are they and why could the film have been named after them?
The possibilities are: Dr. Wigand, because he was inside the tobacco companies but then went public; Lowell Bergman, because he was inside “60 Minutes,” but then went public when CBS management tried to kill the story; and Mike Wallace, because he was an insider at CBS who, according to the story told in the film, allowed CBS business executives to influence the story for their own financial benefit.
3. In the film, as Dr. Wigand is on his way to a deposition taken by the Mississippi Attorney General, the camera shows him driving by what appears to be a military cemetery. What was the director of the film trying to tell us by this shot?
The director was reminding us of the importance of Dr. Wigand’s mission. The director could have been likening Dr. Wigand to a soldier going to his death for a good cause or he could have been referring to the fact that every year tobacco consumption kills more than 400,000 people in the United States and countless more worldwide.
The Tobacco Industry
4. Do you agree to that smoking is responsible for the deaths of millions of people?
Yes. The Centers for Disease Control says that tobacco consumption has killed millions of people. It appears from the historical record that the tobacco companies knew that smoking tobacco was harmful to health but didn’t tell the truth. Their goal appears to have been to keep people smoking and sell more cigarettes.
5. What is a drug delivery device? Give two examples of drug delivery devices for nicotine.
A drug delivery device is something that is used to introduce drugs into the human body, such as a hypodermic needle or a pill. Drug delivery devices for nicotine include: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff.
6. Should the government simply prohibit the production and sale of tobacco products?
Probably not. Prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th century was a failure. People refused to stop drinking and organized crime quickly moved to provide alcohol to the public, becoming very powerful and corrupting many public officials. Prohibition of tobacco would suffer the same fate. The current policy pursued in the U.S. is for states to heavily tax tobacco consumption, reducing consumption by making tobacco very expensive. This also provides revenue to the state governments.
7. Should we permit the tobacco companies to sell their products in other countries or is this just exporting sickness and death?
As a matter of personal morality, many people would not participate in the production and sale of tobacco or any other addicting drug. However, because they are locked in economically or for other reasons, tobacco companies and many people are going to want to conduct this business. One side will say that it is a simple moral choice. You don’t participate in a business that can only harm people. Others will contend that it’s a legal business and if we don’t sell tobacco overseas, others will do so. They may promise that they will: (i) not manipulate nicotine content to encourage addiction, (ii) not make false claims about the harm from smoking, (iii) place warnings on their products, and (iv) avoid sales pitches that appeal to minors. Their contention is that these will ameliorate the injuries caused by smoking. There is no one answer to this question that will be accepted by everyone. We favor banning the export of tobacco because it only contributes to the addiction and sickness of others. But we don’t depend on the tobacco business to feed our families.
(Other questions dealing with the Tobacco Industry are found below in the sections labeled “Crime,” “Alcohol and Drug Abuse”)
8. There were two whistleblowers in this film. Dr. Wigand was one of them. Who was the other?
Lowell Bergman, the “60 Minutes” producer.
9. Has this film shaken your trust in “60 Minutes?” How has it affected your view of the news media in the United States?
There is no one correct response.
10. Does getting information to the “court of public opinion” work as a means of causing change? Compare the situation with the use of tobacco to the situations described in the following films: Learning Guide to “Gandhi“, Learning Guide to “Inherit the Wind“, and Learning Guide to “Beyond Rangoon“.
Most often it does. A good response should include the following concepts: Gandhi used the force of British public opinion, marshaled through civil disobedience and his own saintly behavior, to help secure independence for India. Clarence Darrow used the Scopes Monkey Trial to mobilize public opinion against creationism. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi is still trying to use peaceful means and public opinion to force the military dictatorship in Myanmar (formerly Burma) to hold elections.
11. Did Lowell Bergman do the right thing when he left “60 Minutes” or should he have stayed and tried to make sure the organization acts better in the future?
This is very hard to say and is a perennial question in a society in which large organizations, whose integrity has been compromised, control important parts of society. Whether Bergman could work more effectively for journalistic integrity inside or outside the CBS organization, is a judgment call. Mike Wallace made this judgment call and decided to that he could do more by staying on at “60 Minutes.” Bergman decided to leave.
12. Evaluate the role of Mike Wallace in this incident. Did he conduct himself well?
There is no one right answer to the question. A good response will consider the following issues. The criticism of Wallace is that he didn’t resign in protest when he couldn’t force CBS executives to keep their hands off the story. Wallace’s defense was that he could have a better and broader impact by staying at CBS news.
13. At one point in “The Insider,” a CBS lawyer tells the news people that if Dr. Wigand’s charges against Brown & Williamson were untrue, the network would have less of a problem than if the information were true. At which point, Bergman asks, “Is this ‘Alice in Wonderland’?!” What did the lawyer mean and what did Bergman mean?
Bergman meant that it violated common sense that CBS would face a larger damages award for disseminating accurate information than it would if the information was false. The lawyer meant this: All injured parties (such as Brown & Williamson claimed to be) must take steps to reduce their damages. Dr. Wigand had agreed in a contract to keep information about Brown & Williamson confidential. The company claimed that Dr. Wigand was breaking that contract. If the information disclosed by Dr. Wigand was false, the tobacco company could limit its damages by demonstrating the falsity of the information. If the information was true, then the company would have a harder time limiting the damages caused by the disclosure. The lawyer’s arguments were not valid because CBS had a complete defense to the threatened lawsuit based on: 1) The public’s right to know and the First Amendment gave it a privilege to publish the information; 2) a conspiracy to keep health information from the public and to suppress the truth about a product is illegal and a contract which supports an illegal conspiracy cannot be enforced; and 3) the information had already been disclosed in court proceedings; since court records are public documents, there would be no injury to the tobacco company resulting from Dr. Wigand’s disclosure on “60 Minutes.”
14. Did journalistic integrity require CBS news to proceed with the story despite the threat of a lawsuit, even if such a lawsuit would have imperiled CBS’ planned merger with Westinghouse?
Yes. The self-interest of a news organization and its executives should not be a reason to suppress information.
15. When a professor at the University of California at Berkeley was sent thousands of pages of incriminating tobacco company documents, he gave them to the University library for the purpose of publishing them on the Internet. The tobacco companies sued the university, seeking the return of their “stolen” property. The university attorneys and executives called in the professor and told him that the university was established for the purpose of finding and disseminating the truth and that the university would back the professor all the way, including providing him with a legal defense if the tobacco companies sued him. The tobacco companies sued, but the university and the professor won in court. Compare this to the way in which CBS News dealt with Wigand interview.
CBS did not act ethically. The only possible reason for CBS to have pulled the story was that it was worried about being sued. However, when people’s lives are at stake, the threat of a lawsuit and a large money judgment against a company which has made money for years by broadcasting the news is not an excuse to refrain from acting.
16. Describe some other situations in which the FBI was used improperly as a political weapon.
FBI surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King and its actions during Watergate, including burgling the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.
17. Do you think that business interests influence what we see reported as news in the media?
Obviously. This incident is a case in point. It’s a constant struggle for journalists to keep this effect to a minimum. The fact that in the modern economy media companies are part of large conglomerates with interests in many businesses makes this problem much worse.
(Other questions dealing with the press are found below in the section labeled “Trustworthiness”)