Suggested Answers to Discussion Questions for
Learning Guide to THE INSIDER
1. [Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film].
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? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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. Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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 whistle blowers in this film. Dr. Wigand was one of them. Who was the other? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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". Suggested Response: Most often it does. A good response should include the following concepts: Gandhi used the force of British public opinion, marshalled 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? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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. Suggested Response: 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. Suggested Response: 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? Suggested Response: 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")
ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
1. What is the difference between the legal drugs such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, and some of the illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroine, opium, angel dust, ecstasy, speed and LSD? Suggested Response: The answer to this question is the subject of intense disagreement and much debate. One wants to think that the legal drugs have less of an effect on behavior, fewer harmful effects, and are less addicting than the illegal drugs. However, 440,000 deaths a year is a substantial effect, and it is hard to believe that some of the illegal drugs would have this heavy an impact if they were legalized. There are many people who believe that marijuana should be legalized, that it is less harmful than alcohol physiologically, and that it addicts a much smaller percentage of users. Others maintain that marijuana is a "gateway" to harder drugs.
2. The tobacco companies claimed, as a defense to the charge that they misled the public about the dangers of smoking, that people smoked tobacco willingly and that they should have known smoking was dangerous because many other people were telling them that. What do you think of this defense? Suggested Response: There is some facial appeal to this argument, but ultimately it fails. The tobacco companies repeatedly and forcefully claimed that smoking was not dangerous. They spent many millions of dollars to get this message out. Obviously they did this because they wanted the public to hear their message and act accordingly. They continued to offer cigarettes for sale and, because of their disinformation they made substantial profits. Therefore, there is a strong preference that they intended that people would be misled. The fact that the tobacco companies, in addition to misleading the public, secretly manipulated nicotine levels to make cigarettes more addictive and aimed their advertising at children also impeaches this defense.
STANDING UP - COURAGE - TAKING RESPONSIBILITY
3. Jeffrey Wigand put his economic future at risk to expose the tobacco companies. Would you have done the same thing? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. The way we see it now, exposure of the tobacco companies was the only moral thing to do, but Dr. Wigand was the only person to come forward of all of the people who knew what the tobacco companies were doing.
4. If you had a job in which you earned excellent money with excellent benefits, but you realized that your employer was injuring people and wouldn't stop after you brought the matter to your employer's attention, what would you do? Suggested Response: The only moral course of action is to expose the wrongdoing, no matter how much it costs you.
5. Jeffrey Wigand came forward only after he had been fired. Should he be considered a hero? Defend your answer. Suggested Response: There is no one right answer but a good answer should include the following concepts. Dr. Wigand, like all the other tobacco executives, should have come forward earlier. However, Dr. Wigand did come forward when it meant that he would lose his benefits and be sued by the tobacco companies. That took real courage.
(Additional questions are set out in the "Trustworthiness" section below.)
FAMILIES IN CRISIS - MARRIAGE
6. What was the major weakness of Dr. Wigand's marriage as it was portrayed in the film? Suggested Response: Obviously we cannot comment upon the real marriage because we only have access to information about the marriage as it was portrayed in the film. However, the weakness of the marriage portrayed in the film was profound. There was a lack of trust, lack of communication, and lack of commitment to a common goal. Compare this to the marriage of Oscar Schindler and his wife Emilie. Despite the strains on the marriage because of Schindler's womanizing, she fully supported his effort to save Jews from death in the concentration camps. She was his partner in a much more dangerous enterprise than that undertaken by Dr. Wigand. See Learning Guide to Schindler's List.
7. If Dr. Wigand was thinking of putting his family through a very trying time, what should he have done to try to keep his family together? Suggested Response: The first step would have been to talk to his wife and tell her what he planned to do, describe the potential consequences, and secure her agreement, if possible. If she did not agree, he needed to explain himself to her so that they could work together to mitigate the harm to their family. If he had been able to do all of these things there would have been a better chance of the family coming through the experience intact.
8. Why hasn't any tobacco company executive been jailed for contributing to the death of millions of Americans? Suggested Response: The lack of response by governments in the U.S. to the actions of the tobacco companies is one of the greatest failings of our state and federal governments. This can only be the result of their great economic strength and the fact that politicians need votes from states dependent upon the tobacco industry. The fact that civil attorneys have been able to force the tobacco companies to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to the states in recompense for additional medical expenses incurred by the states due to illnesses caused by tobacco shows the strength and vitality of the civil legal system in the U.S.
9. Who acted more wrongfully, the tobacco executives who made money for their stockholders or the executives of some other companies who fleeced the pension funds of their employees, leaving them with only social security for their old age? Suggested Response: There is no one right answer. The issue is between money for retirement and the health of persons. Our thought is that the tobacco company executives who misled people about the effects of smoking on their health were guilty of more wrongdoing than an executive who took money from the pension funds of employees or caused those funds to evaporate. The tobacco company executives helped cause people to lose their health and to die. They did this by addicting people to a drug, nicotine. However, if you focus on the victims, many smokers played some role in causing their injury by deciding to smoke knowing that there was some question about the health effects of smoking. The people who lost their retirement had no role in causing their loss.
10. Describe the differences between the morality of pushers of illegal drugs and the following people:
Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question but a good answer should deal with the following concepts: The real difference is that tobacco and alcohol are legal. The tobacco companies ran into moral trouble when they did not tell the truth about their knowledge of the ill effects of tobacco and they aimed their advertising toward minors. It was these activities which took a questionable business (selling an addictive and harmful substance) and turned it into a morally reprehensible activity and, in some instances, a criminal enterprise. The analysis also applies to the owner of a convenience store if it sells tobacco to minors. Generally, as to the difference between alcohol and tobacco, most people who drink alcohol consume only moderate amounts and suffer no ill effects. There are some people, a minority of the population, who are alcoholics and need treatment for their addiction. However, nicotine is addictive to almost everyone and use of a substantial amount of tobacco is harmful to a vast majority of the population. In addition, persons who promote smoking (and smokers themselves) also contribute to the poor health and early deaths of people affected by second-hand smoke. Alcohol and tobacco companies which direct their advertising toward children are targeting a vulnerable population and are committing an unethical, if not illegal, act. To the extent that a company selling alcoholic beverages aims its advertising at minors, those companies conduct their business immorally and perhaps illegally for that reason. The same is true of a business that sells alcohol to minors. Moreover, a store, restaurant or bar that sells alcohol to a person who is inebriated bears substantial legal and moral responsibility for an injury that person sustains or causes while drunk.
- tobacco company executives;
- the owner of a convenience store which sells cigarettes;
- an executive in a company that makes alcoholic beverages, such as wine, beer and/or whiskey, and
- a person who operates a store, bar or restaurant that sells alcohol.
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
See questions in the "Crime" and "Standing Up-Courage-Taking Responsibility" sections above.
1. Every action which involves an ethical decision has stakeholders, i.e., the people who are affected by the decision. Who were the stakeholders in decisions by tobacco company executives to withhold information about the effects of smoking? Suggested Response: Stakeholders in this decision included: smokers who relied on the false information; people who were around those smokers and who inhaled their secondary smoke, including the relatives and children of the smokers; the relatives of the people whose illness or death was caused by second hand smoke; the health insurance companies and the federal and state governments who paid for the increased medical expenses of the smokers and the persons who inhaled secondary smoke; the life insurance companies who insured people who died of smoking; the children, grandchildren, spouses and employees of the tobacco company executives who were taught immorality by example. On the other hand there were farmers who grew tobacco; employees of the tobacco companies who had good paying jobs, people in the communities of the employees who sold products to the employees (the grocery store, the clothing store etc.) This latter group profited from the tobacco company lies. This list is not exhaustive.
2. Describe how tobacco company executives violated the Pillar of Trustworthiness and how the stakeholders were affected. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A good answer should include the following concepts: In a civil society people must be able to rely on the truthfulness of what people say, otherwise the social order would break down. See response to the preceding question concerning stakeholders.
3. Why was it wrong for tobacco companies to slant their advertising to appeal to children? Suggested Response: Children, as a general rule, have less judgment than adults and are less able than adults to evaluate messages in advertisements. Members of a civilized society have an obligation to refrain from taking advantage of those who are vulnerable because they are young, old or ill (addicted). To the extent that the tobacco companies tried to market to children, they violated that responsibility.
4. According to the story told in this movie, there were violations of ethical obligations by CBS executives. Describe for us how they violated the Pillar of Responsibility and how the stakeholders were affected. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A good answer should include that in a civil society people must be able to rely on news organizations to report important stories objectively.
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
5. Evaluate the actions shown in the film of the three major characters (Wigand, Bergman and Wallace), the tobacco companies, and CBS from the standpoint of this Pillar of Character. Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. Any good answer should deal with the following concepts: Dr. Wigand: Like every other tobacco executive who knew or should have known the truth about the dangers of tobacco use, he should have come forward immediately. However, Dr. Wigand did come forward at tremendous personal penalty and risk, even if belatedly. He was the first tobacco executive to do this. It took tremendous moral courage. Bergman: Bergman's actions were moral and appropriate but they went along established journalistic principles, even to the extent of his leak to the New York Times. Bergman risked little. Wallace: Unlike Bergman, Wallace caved to the CBS management. However, he did resist to some extent and eventually he disclosed the problem to national television. Wallace felt that he could do more while still working for "60 Minutes" than if he resigned. It is often hard to tell when it is best to work within an imperfect system and when it is better to resign in protest. CBS Management: They put their own financial interest above the lives and health of people.
Last updated December 24, 2007.
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