I saw The Insider last night, with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. A brilliant film about a bone-chilling real life drama. Crowe plays Jeffrey Wigand, a scientist who was Vice President of Research and Development with tobacco giant Brown and Williamson in the late 1980’s. He discovered that the corporation added chemicals to enhance the addictive properties of nicotine.
When he confronted them on it they fired him. They gave him a severance package but he had to sign a tight non-disclosure agreement. It went against his conscience, but he had a wife and two kids to support, so he did it. He couldn’t get another job in his field because nobody decent wanted to hire a scientist who had worked for a tobacco company. The presumption was that he had no integrity.
Enter Lowell Bergman, producer for the CBS show 60 Minutes. He had received a package with documents relating to another tobacco company, and he needed somebody who translate them into layman’s terms. Coincidentally, he called Wigand, and got curious when Wigand wouldn’t talk about his work with Brown and Williamson because he wanted to honor his non-disclosure agreement.
But the tobacco company obviously had a tail on him and they thought he was talking, so they tried to force him to sign an even tighter agreement, threatening him and has family if he refused. It tipped the scales for him and he told Bergman he would talk. They arranged for him to be subpoenaed to give evidence in a case against another tobacco company so he wouldn’t legally be breaking his agreement with Brown and Williamson.
Then he did an interview for 60 Minutes. Before it was aired he received death threats against himself, his wife and his children. He lost his home and his wife left him. Then 60 Minutes was threatened by the tobacco giant and they decided not to air the interview. Bergman was devastated, and so of course was Wigand. He’d lost everything – for nothing.
Brown and Williamson is owned by BAT Industries, Pic, the second largest tobacco concern in the world. At that point they had never lost any of the lawsuits brought against them because they had so much money and power. But Bergman didn’t give up. He risked his own career and leaked information about the cover-up and 60 Minutes’ betrayal of him and Wigand to the New York Times who also printed Wigand’s testimony.
Subsequently 60 Minutes aired the original interview. Bergman left, though – after working there for 40 years – because for him the core integrity of 60 Minutes was broken. Brown and Williamson sued Wigand of course. But Attorney Generals of 40 States sued the tobacco industry and got a $368 billion settlement – and one of the conditions of that settlement was the dismissal of the suit against Wigand.
It’s a beautiful David and Goliath story. Wigand was – and still is – an honest man who got caught up in the sinister machinations of corporate power and greed. Brown and Williamson had no compunction about trying to destroy him. All that money, all that power, against one man and his integrity. And integrity triumphed. It makes you think.
Wigand taught science in school for a while, but now he lectures around the world, and is an expert witness on tobacco issues. He also spends a lot of his time and energy on his a non-profit organization SMOKE-FREE KIDS Inc.
He’s a really great guy. You can read about him on his website. As for the film, it’s riveting. It’s well written, beautifully acted and directed. I think it’s both Russell Crowe’s and Al Pacino’s best roles. If you’re trying to persuade somebody to give up smoking, show them this movie.