Ethics in the Capital Society
Jeong Pyo Son
Johns Hopkins University
The Insider: Essay
The Insider is a great example of the whistle blowing problem and way for us to discuss right – versus – right ethics. I would like to analyze the essay focusing on the two main characters and how they made their decisions when they are standing at their turning points. The main two characters are Jeffrey Wigand who is the whistle blower of Brown Williamson Corporation, and Rowell Bergman, who is a TV producer of the show 60 Minutes, who sets up an interview with Wigand, in the film. In the movie, I think both characters are facing defining moments. For Jeffrey, one right is consistent with his role as an honorable scientist who knows the misconduct his company is involved with; and the other is in his role as an executive member in his company who is obliged to keep confidentiality. His actions could impact a large number of stakeholders. Blowing the whistle could have a serious impact on the company’s brand image. It would also affect competing companies since the problem involves the entire tobacco industry. Bergman is also frustrated because he is supposed to disclose the interview to the public as a producer but at the same time he is opposed by CBS, for the interview poses a high potential financial risk for the company. If CBS airs the film it could be liable for “tortuous interference” and be sued by Brown and Williamson. Eventually Wigand and Bergman both decide to become whistle blowers. So what factors would have made them make these decisions? The most difficult factor for Jeffrey making his decision is probably choosing between his personal/professional rights and duties. Personally he has a family to sustain. He has a mortgage to pay-off and has a sick daughter who needs expensive medical treatments. It was affordable for him to solve these problems while he was still working for Brown Williamson. He knows that by choosing to side with the press, revealing the dirty truth about his firm, his family’s safety would be put at stake. This is one of the major reasons why whistle blowing is particularly difficult for him. If he were alone, he would just have to worry about himself, but in this case he has to take responsible of his family. According to Sissela Bok(1980), although one is expected to show more loyalty to one’s country and for the public rather than other individuals or organizations, people are still afraid of losing their careers and the capability to support households. Emotionally, people want to dissent over wrongdoings, but they cannot do it rationally. It was as difficult for Bergman as Wigand to make his decision, but he only had his career at risk. His personal and professional values are centered on being an honest, straight forward journalist. These values conflict with his duties as an employee working for CBS, which might face a huge law suit if it airs the interview with Wigand that he has arranged. His whistle blowing was easier because he valued his career and his virtuous character more highly than his responsibilities to CBS, and he saw his character being destroyed in front of him by his company. People hold different values and reason about them in different ways. How did Wigand and Bergman think in philosophical terms we have learned in class? From a Utilitarian perspective, Wigand basically made the right choice. In the Utilitarian way of thinking, he needed to make decisions that could maximize the satisfaction, or happiness, or benefits for the largest number of stakeholders.(Hartman & DesJardins, 2011). In that case, his actions could be regarded as a success since he let the public know the truth and the benefit to the public would be greater than that to the company if he were not to disclose the inside information. It is the same for Bergman in making his decision. Insisting on airing the...
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