The Insider Ethics in the Capital Society Jeong Pyo Son 09/17/2012 Business Ethics 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 interview might cause trouble for CBS, and certainly would damage the reputation of Brown and Williamson and the tobacco industry but along with Wigand he chose to reveal the truth to the world. Does the deontological way of thinking apply to Wigand’s decision? Deontology is a matter of principle. Legally thinking, Wigand broke the law for not keeping the confidentiality of his company. Even if the information he held was lethal to the public, a law is still a law and it is a principle promised in the society. It is mentioned n the textbook that the Deontological way of thinking creates duties for the person to follow. (Hartman & DesJardins, 2011) But Wigand not only has a duty as an executive who is banned from opening his mouth; he also has a duty as a father and as a scientist. His role in his family as a father is to maintain a secure household. Facing the company would leave his family in danger. Also his duty and principle as a scientist collides with his role as an employee in his company. It was one of the reasons he got fired from his company too.
In this Deontological way of thinking, Bergman did not really have to have inner conflicts as Wigand because he did not break any important ethical principles. Although, he would have felt guilty for leaking information to another press, he still maintained his principle as a journalist to publish the facts out in the public. Also he did not have major damages for his family too. His wife is working in the same industry and would have understood him for his decisions. So did Wigand value his personal integrity more than his family and loyalty to his company?
Can we say he is a good person and made the right decision? According to Kidder(1995), kind people make tough decisions too. Although their values are clearly defined, it is difficult for people to find the right thing to do. There is a good example introduced in the article of Kidder. A manager is taking charge of a broadcasting filming scene taken at his company parking lot. After the film shooting was over, the film director tried to credit the manager for helping them borrow the location. The manager now is facing a decision making situation whether he should receive credits on behalf of the company or not.
Kidder(1995) said, “For him, it was hardly that simple because of his core values of honesty, integrity, and fairness, and his desire to avoid even the appearance of evil. All in all, he felt that there was some right on both sides, which it was right for him to be compensated. ”This explains that even when someone has a strong self integrated value; it is still tough for him or her to make ethical decisions. This also applies to Wigand and Bergman. Joseph Bardaracco(1997) made a term “Defining Moments” to illustrate the choice of right-versus-right problem. There are 3 characteristics of Defining Moments which are Reveal, Test, and Shape.
Bardaracco(1997) said, “Right-versus-right decision can reveal a manager’s basic values and, in some cases, those of an organization. At the same time, the decision tests the strength of the commitments that a person or an organization has made. Finally, the decision casts a shadow forward and shapes the character of the person or the organization. ” So how did Wigand and Bergman decide their defining moments for the decision? Wigand was a person of honesty; however he was forced to keep the secret from his company. His family wanted to keep the secret and live safely.
But after he and his family got threatened by Brown and Williamson, he decides to step out to the public. He thought Bergman and the press were on his side, so he got his courage to take action. This was Wigand’s defining moment and after it was finished, he needed some time to shape himself because his whole family had left him. After the defining moment passed, Wigand became a truthful and honest scientist as he wished to be from the beginning. In case of Bergman, we could say that he already shaped his character relating this issue since the beginning of the movie. He was a professional journalist with integrated value of honesty.
Unlike Wigand, he did not have much inner conflicts about making his decision. He argued with the CBS board members and revealed the interview to other presses and he was not as serious as Wigand making his decision. His priority was airing the interview and he had to make it happen as an honest journalist. In conclusion, I was very interested to discuss about this subject with this movie because I was grown in a family associated with the press. Both of my parents are journalists and I have seen them discuss about this subject once in a while. I thought that I should ask them when their defining moments were next time I meet them.
It also made me think when my defining moments were and how they shaped my character. As Pinker(2008) questioned in his article about the Universal Morality, everyone’s moral value is different after our stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. We all make decisions in our own life with our principle and value that has been shaped by defining moments. It is time for me to think what my true values are in my life. References Badaracco, J. (1997) Defining moments, when managers must choose between right and right. (pp. 5-24). Harvard Business Press. Bok, S. (1980). Whistleblowing and professional responsibility.
In Donaldson, T. , & Werhane, P. H. (2008). Ethical issues in business, a philosophical approach. (8 ed. , p. 128,131). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Hartman, L. P. , & DesJardins, J. (2011). Business ethics: Decision making for personal integrity and social responsibility. (2 ed. , pp. 109-110). New York, NY: McGraw-Hll. Kidder, R. (1995). How good people make tough choices. (1st ed. , pp. 24-25). New York, NY: Fireside. Kidder, R. (1995). How good people make tough choices. (1st ed. , pp. 26). New York, NY: Fireside. Pinker, S. (2008, 01 13). The moral instinct. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www. nytimes. com