Zhang, 1Di ZhangLIS 58012 March 2012 The Insider: Communication, Group Dynamics, and Ethics in CBS Jeffrey Wigand, a former executive for a major tobacco company, is the“insider” that became famous for blowing the whistle on the devious practices of thetobacco industry.He was interviewed in 1995 for the CBS program 60 Minutes, buthis story almost never got told because of conflicts of interest at CBS. In this paper, Ianalyze CBS Corporation as depicted in The Insider, a film based on the eventssurrounding the 60 Minutes segment. In particular, I examine the communicationand group dynamics at CBS and the ethics involved in the decisions of three keyplayers: Wigand, producer Lowell Bergman, and reporter Mike Wallace. Communication As Evans (2009) suggests, words are not the thing they represent and this iswhy the meaning and intent in a message can become obscured in several ways. Forexample, professional jargon can obscure the intent and the meaning of a messageand is therefore a major barrier to communication. In The Insider, Caperelli, GeneralCounsel of CBS News, introduces the law term “tortious interference” at a meeting(Mann, 1999). She gives a “lawyer’s” definitionbut does not reveal the true intentbehind the word. Bergman finally understands the true intent when he independentlylearns about the sale of CBS to Westinghouss: “You hear…‘tortious interference.’ Ihear... ‘Potential Brown & Williamson lawsuit jeopardizing the sale of CBS to
Zhang, 2Westinghouse.’” In order to avoid this kind of communication problem, simple anddirect language should be used rather than jargon, especially if the jargon is not wellunderstood outside of a particular profession (in this case, law). Caperelli also oversteps her boundaries within the authority structure bytalking down to CBS producers. For example, she tells the producers that the 60minutes segment is “rife with problems.” This is essentially telling journalists thatthey did not do their jobs well, in particular questioning the “veracity” [anotherlawyer term] of Bergman’s information source. Both the tone and the words usedwere inappropriate, and were understandably offensive to the journalists. It isimportant to be respectful at all times to members of one’s organization and not toattack the integrity of people’s work. Caperelli also tells Bergman “You’re gettingahead of yourself” when he correctly assumes that CBS Corporate is going to tell CBSNews what news to air. Such phrases are condescending because they purport toknow what a person is thinking and judge it before verifying that that is indeed whatthey are thinking. To fix these problems, I would hold a workshop oncommunication that focused on treating fellow employees as equals and verifyingand clarifying messages before we interpret their meaning. Another important communication barrier is hiding or distorting therationale behind decisions. This will lead to a mistrust of decision makers byemployees and a further breakdown of communication in the future. For example, inThe Insider, the rationale given to Bergman for making an alternate version of the 60Minutessegment is that they need to have something “just in case” Wigand is notbeing truthful. However, Bergman discovers an SEC filing for a sale of CBS to
Zhang, 3Westinghouse in which Caperelli and Kluster will profit millions of dollars. Failing todisclose such conflicts of interest is clearly a breach of trust between managementand other employees. To remedy this, management should keep employeesinformed about the state of the company and the direction it is headed in the future,including potential mergers and acquisitions and who will benefit from them.Dessler (2004) calls this “open-book management,” in which employees are treatedas partners who have a right to know the company’s financial data (p. 327). Finally, it is important to avoid arguing during communication because asEvans (2009) suggest, arguments shut down dialog. This is especially true if thereare additional factors of high emotions and defensiveness. In arguments, speakersoften stray from the issue at hand and attack the person they are talking to,especially if they have been put on the defensive. For example, when Bergmansuggests that Hewitt is not upholding journalistic integrity, Hewitt screams atBergman: “You’re a fanatic, an anarchist!” Name-calling is certainly unacceptable ina professional organizational context, and should be avoided at all costs. It is helpfulto train all employees on how to handle differences of opinion in a positive way,whether this involves finding common ground or, as in the case of Bergman andHewitt, agreeing to disagree. Group Dynamics- Groupthink The CBS Corporation as portrayed in The Insider has many elements ofgroupthink.According to Janis (1996), "groupthink" is characterized by adeterioration of critical thinking, reality testing, and moral judgments as a result of
Zhang, 4(cohesive) group pressures to reach conformity and concurrence (p. 184). Moreover,"[p]owerful social pressures are brought to bear by the members of a cohesivegroup whenever a dissident begins to voice his objections to a group consensus" (p.183). In The Insider, Hewitt and Wallace simply accept Kluster’s rationale forcreating an alternate version of the 60 Minutes segment without question. Evenwhen Bergman brings up the fact that there are conflicts of interest within themanagement’s decisions, Hewitt still refuses to deviate from his position. This isdemonstrative of “mindguard,” a symptom of group think in which a victim protectsthe leader and other members against information that might “break thecomplacency they share about the effectiveness and morality of… decisions” (p. 188).Victims of groupthink take the moral high ground and often pressure dissenters tochange their opinions by using moral arguments. For example, in the film, Hewittaccuses Bergman of “putting the company at risk” by arguing against the alternateversion. However, CBS is not a totally cohesive group and thus there is notunanimity. Bergman clearly and forcefully objects to the decisions of the group,regardless of the pressure placed on him.1 Ethics Although it is beyond the scope of this paper, professional ethics ofteninvolves a complex set of considerations that involve codes of conduct, loyalty to1Given that he was at the bottom of the power hierarchy, his dissenting opinion has little influence inthe company. Still, Bergman is able to go outside the company and use his associations with othernews organizations as leverage to influence CBS news. Dessler’s (2004) definition of leverage statesthat leverage is “the factors that help or hinder a party in a bargaining situation” (p. 323). Necessity isone of these factors, particularly the necessity to protect one’s reputation. Bergman used hisconnections with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to refute the characterassassination of Jeffrey Wigand and to pressure CBS News to air the original interview with Wigand.In this way, groupthink was overcome by bringing in outside influences of other news organizations.
Zhang, 5one’s organization, and considerations of society at large. Here, I will briefly analyzethe actions of three important characters in The Insider and ethical frameworks thatare relevant to each.Wigand: Jeff Wigand is a whistle-blower who risks his reputation, his marriage, hisfamily’s safety and jail-time in order to tell the truth about big tobacco’s immoralpractices. His behavior can be justified on utilitarian grounds, both in terms of actand rule utilitarianism, although I will be focusing on rule utilitarianism here.According to Johnson (2009), a Utilitarian believes that the only thing of intrinsicvalue is happiness and that to increase overall happiness is good while to decreaseoverall happiness is bad. A rule utilitarian believes that it is morally right to actaccording to rules that, if followed by everyone, would generally increase overallhappiness. In Wigand’s case, acting by the rule “Always blow the whistle when youhave information about organizational practices that harm a large number ofpeople.” This needs to be weighed against other reasonable rules such as “Look afterthe safety of your family and do not put them at risk of danger” and “Honor yourcontracts.” However, given the amount of harm that cigarettes cause to society, itcan be argued that the rule “Always blow the whistle when you have informationabout practices that harm a large number of people” is an overriding rule in thiscase.Bergman: Lowell Bergman is a producer for CBS News who goes against theleadership of his company in order to honor a commitment to Jeff Wigand that he
Zhang, 6will be heard by the American people. In keeping his word, Bergman is following thecategorical imperative of Immanuel Kant: Never treat another human being merelyas a means but always as an end. If Bergman were to allow Wigand’s reputation tobe tarnished and his family suffer without honoring his commitment to haveWigand’s voice heard, this would be a case of exploitation (since no rationalcreature would agree to such a tradeoff). Therefore, according to the deontologicalstream of ethics, Bergman did the right thing.Wallace: Mike Wallace is a top journalist for CBS News who goes along with whatthe leadership of CBS Corp says. That is, he airs a segment of 60 Minutes that doesnot contain his interview with Jeff Wigand. In explaining his actions to Bergman,Wallace says: “In the real word, when you get to where I am, there are otherconsiderations… How will I be regarded after I’m gone?” Thus, it was reviewed thathe acted based on selfish reasons of not wanting to have his reputation tarnished. Ifwe look at this from the standpoint of virtue ethics, Wallace acted against virtuebecause he did not do what a good reporter does. Edward R. Murrow is often seen asthe epitome of great journalism at CBS, and Wallace is hurt by the charge that he andthe rest of CBS betrayed the legacy of Murrow. Wallace realizes the error of his wayswhen he thinks about the reputation of journalism as a whole, rather than his ownreputation: “We caved… It’s foolish. It’s simply dead wrong.”
Zhang, 7 BibliographyDessler Gary, 2004, Management: Principles and Practices for Tomorrow’s Leader, 3rdedition, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Ch. 12.Evans G. Edward, Patricia Layzell Ward and Bendik Rugaas, 2009, Management Basics for Information Professional, 2nd edition, New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers. Ch. 12.Janis Irving L., 1996, “Groupthink: The Desperate Drive for Consensus at Any Cost” in: Shafritz Jay M. and Ott Steven J., Classics of Organization Theory, 4th edition, 183-191. [Source: Janis Irving L., 1971, Psychology Today Magazine, Sussex Publishers Inc., Reprinted by permission]Johnson Deborah, 2009, Computer Ethics, 4th. edition, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Ch. 2 (ethics and information technology) and Ch. 3 (professional ethics).Mann, M. and Peter Brugge (Producers), & Mann, M. (Director), 1999, The Insider [Motion Picture] United States: Spyglass Entertainment.Solomon Robert, 1991, “Business Ethics”, in: Singer Peter (Ed.), Companion to Ethics, UK: Blackwell Publishing, pp.354-365.Taylor H. and Cox Jr., 1996, “Intergroup Conflict”, in: Shafritz Jay M. and Ott Steven J., Classics of Organization Theory, 4th edition, 192-202. [Source: Taylor H. and Cox Jr., 1993, Cultural Diversity in Organizations, San-Francisco: Berrett- Koehler Publishers Inc., Reprinted by permission]