The Insider (1999)

Last modified: May 22, 2017

The Insider is based on the true story of dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the man who stood up against Big Tobacco. Dr. Wigand is struggling with the moral dilemma of whistleblowing on his former employer, risking the safety and security of his family. He is asked to appear on a tv-show and talk about the industry’s disregard for health and safety. Dr. Wigand, although bound by a confidentiality agreement with his former employee, accepted the offer.


This film pictures the personal and professional struggle of a scientist who wants to go public about his former employer’s policy of fraud. The movie mainly shows the suffocating effect of the network of political and economical interests on being integer and open as a researcher about research misconduct in bigger companies. For this reason, the film is about the moral battle someone is taking, having to risk everything when blowing the whistle, but also feeling of the sense of the moral obligation to rule on the danger for the public health

This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.

Key words: Fraud / Conflict of Interest / Prevention
Medium: This film is available on DVD
Fragments: 3

  • Fragment 1 [45:20 – 46:30]
  • Fragment 2 [1:09:51-1:15:42]
  • Fragment 3 [1:13:10 –1:14:45]

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Biography/Drama/Thriller/Playing time: 157 min.

Content and context

The Insider is based on the true story of dr. Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), the man who stood up against Big Tobacco. Dr. Wigand is fired after openly expressing his concerns about the company’s violation of moral boundaries when withholding information about the addictive characteristics of nicotine. He is struggling with the moral dilemma of whistleblowing on his former employer, risking the safety and security of his family. He is asked to appear on a tv-show and talk about the industry’s disregard for health and safety. Despite putting his honour, his children’s and his own life at risk, he goes on camera for a Mike Wallace CBS interview. To prevent this from happening, the Tabaco Company tries in a final attempt to buy the television station, and with this the broadcast comes into danger. At this point it looks as if everything has been in vain. Will the truth come out?


Fragment 1: [39.50 – 43.10] & Fragment 2: [45.20 – 46.30]

Fragment 1 illustrates what is at stake for the main character Jeff Wigand. Jeff is fired and he expects to have big problems, as he has to pay for medical insurance and mortgage. For this reason Jeff hesitates to rise up against the violations of the company. Because Jeff experiences a certain moral obligation to tell about the wrongdoings of the company he eventually decides to talk with the reporter from the CBS news Channel, but only about topics which are not included his confidentiality agreement. Furthermore, this fragment shows the difficulties a researcher in a health-science context could encounter when he or she chooses to work for a Tabaco company, for returning to a job in the academic world becomes nearly impossible.
Fragment 2 discusses to what extend an agreement of confidentiality holds up. In this case, public health is at stake, and it could be that in cases like this there is a moral obligation to speak out and breach the confidentiality agreement.
Ethics of fragments 1 and 2

A researcher at a Tabaco company gets sacked and He signed a confidentiality agreement during his employment. Now, ironically, his former employer questions his integrity, and he is asked to sign another paper. Jeff does not want to, but decides to sign for otherwise his life and family are under treat. The moral dilemma here is what exactly Jeff’s moral obligations are: should he give in and secure his life and that of his family, or rebel against the company and reveal, for the sake of public health, the companies wrong doings. The fragment can be the basis for a discussion on when or when one is not morally obligated to breach a confidentiality agreement. Can all the interests be weighted on a single scale? Or should a moral line by drawn that some interests cannot be weighted and compared.

Fragment 3: [1:9:51 – 1:15:42]

For months dr. Wigand and his family have been pressured and intimated by people from Brown and Williams about the 60 Minutes interview. His wife starts to doubt whether it is all worth it, but dr. Wigand gets even more angry and determined to go through with it.
This fragment starts with a dinner – dr. Wigand, his wife, Bergman, Wallace- in New York on the night before the interview. Dr. Wigand has already accepted Bergman’s offer but he has not told his wife yet. The moment Bergman brings it up the situation becomes tensed: ‚What interview?’ his wife wants to know. In the following scene dr. Wigand is on 60 Minutes to talk about Big Tobacco and his personal struggle to go public. The fragment in total illustrates the burden and personal and professional challenges of a Tobacco whistle blower.
Ethics of fragment 3

Dr. Wigand is torn apart between two feelings of responsibility: (1) As a father and a husband, (2) As a scientist. For the Tobacco industry science is instrumental. They only make use of it when it is in the company’s interest -for example, to show that there is no scientific proof that smoking is dangerous, and to chemically enhance the addictive effect of nicotine so that people will consume more of their product.

As a man of science, dr. Wigand knows that the right thing to do is to share important public health related information about an industry that puts people in danger. However, he also knows that if he decides to go public, this would involve a great personal and professional risk. He could go to jail for it (confidentiality agreement) en his family could lose their medical coverage. His responsibility as a scientist strongly conflicts with his responsibility towards his family.

Fragment 4: [1.13.10 – 1.14.45]

This clip shows what the wrongdoings of the tobacco company exactly are. Public health considerations were denied for profit, even though the researchers sounded the alarm bell and insisted that things should change. With this denial, the company knowingly endangered public health by manipulating research results on the effect of nicotine.
Ethics of fragment 4

This fragment shows how easy it is for a person or company in control to misuse their power. In this case, it concerns the obscuring of research results and endangering public health with it. The fragment can be insightful in the discussion on moral responsibilities that may be attached to corporate power.


The movie is based on a true story, for this reason the movie can be characterized as very realistic. On the other hand, it has to be acknowledged that the film shows a very unique story, which does not take place on the university and certainly not on a regular basis. It is for this reason that it might be hard to identify with such a story as an academic.

Suggested use in education

This movie does not correspond to any day-to-day situation in the academic world, for it is a very rare case in which the company disadvantages the health of millions of people by it’s wrong doings. Even though the latter is the case, the movie can still serve as a tool to explain the difficulties of the moral dilemma a researcher may encounter when blowing the whistle; for when one does, one chooses truth above certainty and this is a decision that any future whistle blower has to make. Losing your job, house and even family can be part of the consequences of blowing the whistle on a big corporation.
When used in class it has to be introduced properly, otherwise the movie is too far from reality to identify one with. When properly introduced the fragments can be used to discuss the possible moral obligation a researcher in general, but more specifically in a company as a tobacco company, has. A question one can ask is whether a researcher has more responsibility or obligations than any other person? For maybe with having more knowledge also comes more responsibility to share this with the world of needed. It is these discussions that can help to realise the possible responsibilities that are connected to being a scientist.

Another leading question might be: considering the danger and challenges of blowing the whistle, is a scientist still morally obliged to go public about a company’s bad policy?


After the New York Times revealed the self-censorship (not broadcasting the interview because of financial interests) of CBS, CBS decides to broadcast the complete interview. The reporter, who helped Jeff Wigand, decides to resign at CBS.

Although dr. Wigand does not go to jail for breaking his confidentiality agreement with the tobacco company by going on the tv-show, in the end his wife does leave him because she could not forgive her husband for placing his desire for justice above his concern for his family. While dr. Wigand had hoped that he could be a good scientist and still a family man, in the end it turned out that this was impossible.

The movie closes with a textual summary of the Tabaco Master Settlement Agreement that was established as a direct result of this case.

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