The Inside(r) Scoop on The Insider & PR

Mann, M. (Director). (1999). The Insider [Motion picture]. Touchstone Home Video :.

“Since when has the paragon of investigative journalism allowed lawyers to determine the news content on 60 Minutes” (Lowell The Insider)

In The Insider Jeffrey Wigand is recruited by Lowell Bergman to give the “inside scoop” on a tobacco company called Brown and Williamson. Wigand was the VP of Research Development at Brown and Williamson, and was fired (allegedly, or in his opinion) for his questioning and inquiries into the chemical usage that was making nicotine more addictive. At this time, it was just the beginning of knowledge being released to the public about the dangers of nicotine. Wigand was being targeted for his story, because of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in which heads of corporations denied their knowledge that not only was nicotine an addictive substance, but that they were putting funding into developing formulas with different chemicals to increase the effectiveness of nicotine in cigarettes.

What occurs once Lowell begin to target Wigand for his story, is a series of events that boil down to PR strategies by Brown and Williamson to prevent this story from making it’s way into mainstream media. The extent that B & W goes to, shows how important it is to their brand to stay intact, and the impact Wigand’s information would have on their corporation.

B & W at this point, had maintained some level of a positive identity even after the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and were trying to keep it that way. The job of a public relations sector for a corporation such as this, is to keep customers trusting, liking and ultimately buying their product. They work to create and maintain a persona to the general public and their potential and current customers in order to keep those people purchasing their product over another company’s. As shown in the film, some companies not only have the financial means to go to extreme lengths, but need to in order to protect their brand because some information could damage an entire industry to the point of no return. In Baran, he breaks down public relations like this; “Public relations has terrible public relations. We dismiss information as “just PR.” Public relations professionals are frequently equated with snake oil salespeople, hucksters, and other willful deceivers. They are referred to both inside and outside the media industries as flacks. Yet virtually every organization and institution-big and small, public and private, for non-profit and volunteer-uses public relations as a regular part of its operation.” (Baran, 265) As Baran phrases it, we view this sector as a necessity of the commercialism but criticize its tactics and purpose. As we examine this film closely, one could extract the idea that PR has been Wigand’s safety net, turned into his nightmare over the course of a few days. When he worked for Brown and Williamson, PR was what kept his job relevant, and paying him each week to care for his family. However, once Wigand leave B & W, PR becomes his worst enemy, because he has become their’s. He becomes their target, because he could damage their reputation severely if his story is shared with the public which would result in a PR department needing to reverse these effects in order to maintain profits, which typically go hand-in-hand with a positive identity.

Although PR has a (relatively) positive connotation, in the case of the film, one could wonder where the line is drawn when it comes to how far a PR can go, before it’s gone to the point where lives are ruined or at risk, and journalistic integrity is compromised to the point where anchors producers and networks become at odds with maintaining monetary success, and remaining true to their job as news distributers. At the end of the film, B & W went to the extreme measure of essentially threatening CBS’s stock if they ran the story by Wigand. Although they were trying to maintain a positive public presence, it came at the cost of this man’s life as he knew it, just to share information with the public that was imperative to the general population’s health and well-being. Where is the line, and do people like Wigand lose all privilege of safety and security when he goes against a confidentiality agreement for the “good of the public?” That would be where media ethics and the social responsibility come into play. Both topics dealing with this ethical dilemma presented throughout the film, and cause problems for Wigand, Lowell and 60 Minutes. It is difficult, just as it is for the characters in this film, to decide what is right and what is wrong for themselves as individuals, as members of a new corporation and citizens of the United States. It is challenging to remember each of one’s different roles when making ethical choices because what may be good for one person’s life, may be detrimental to another’s. It is in the hand’s of journalists and those in news and broadcasting to rise above the industrial control so prevalent in the U.S.

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