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Films >> Insider, The (1999) >>

1) Ever since World War II, the media have rather consistently put their wallets where their words were -- into a public-service model of journalism that elevated duty to an equal and often higher plane than profit. This attentiveness to public service has long been a signature characteristic of American journalism, a main energizing force for newsrooms, and an ideal that has animated and inspired truth-seekers the world over. To trifle with it puts at risk the soul of the news enterprise. (Stepp 56)

2) In a world where "any space whatever" is the norm, squared, monotonous -- henceforth cartography in its least concrete fragment -- the [Michael] Mann character will have to resign himself to the finitude of his vital space. But he must above all re-learn to invest in a possible fiction. An example of this is found in the magnificent sequence from The Insider, in which Wigand (Russell Crowe) checks into a motel room, reinventing through hallucination another space (nature and water as opposed to glass and concrete) which gives him access to a vision of his daughters. (Thoret 74)

3) Many of the First Amendment lawyers who commented publicly on the 60 Minutes case talked about the rising threat to journalism from bold, aggressive corporate litigation that seeks to circumvent the press's traditional First Amendment protection. In recent years, the courts have been closing the door on giving protection to news media, especially in newsgathering. There is a growing perception that networks and broadcasters have run amok, poking cameras in keyholes, barging in with the police, intruding on citizens' privacy, showing no consideration for grieving parents and distraught children, and making ordinary people miserable in the glare of its camera's lights. There is a sense that the news media, as a result of their aggressive reporting on subjects of mere prurient interest rather than true public significance, are tearing away the civil rights of their subjects. The press is reaping the rewards of its own excesses, and now faces a tough, uphill argument before the courts; its First Amendment defenses are being limited. It is essential that the press begin to think about the issues in journalistic as opposed to legal terms. (Grossman 47)

4) The Insider is clearly supposed to be an All the President's Men for our time, but, unless you're a media insider yourself, there just isn't enough at stake here. It's not as if the fate of the republic depends on the public being told the news that cigarettes are dangerous, and that cigarette companies can be ruthless and dishonest. (Foreman 52)

5) Best of all, the bleached-haired [Russell] Crowe and the charcoal-tagliatelle-topped [Al] Pacino have a combustive chemistry unmatched since Clark Gable met Jean Harlow. Their combative love-hate percolates throughout, and has the movie crackling like Rice Krispies on Benzedrine. (Simon 71)

6) The Insider, like most docudramas, is the essence of infotainment, blurring all sorts of lines between reality and invention in ways that viewers cannot possibly fathom. . . . The problem is that viewers can't tell what is true, what is half-true, what is guesswork, and what is fantasy. That is fundamentally unfair to both the characters and to history. (Stepp 56)

7) The movie kicked up a big fuss well before its release largely because Wallace, who was slipped an early version of the screenplay, complained publicly that it falsely portrayed him as "selling out" the tobacco expose; that words he never said were put into his mouth; that he, too, actually battled hard and publicly to air the interview; and that Bergman was not the Lone Ranger he claimed to be. In fact, after first being quoted along with Hewitt in The New York Times supporting "the lawyers' decision" to kill the interview, Wallace quickly changed course and went public to protest the decision with great vehemence. Wallace was not the only one to complain about the movie's script. B&W asserted that it was full of lies about what the company did. Jeffrey Wigand protested that the movie distorted his personal life and exaggerated Bergman's role. Even The Wall Street Journal threatened to bring a libel suit over the way the original script portrayed a fictional journal editor eager to run a planted news story about Wigand without even bothering to check it out. The newspaper asked Disney either to remove all scenes involving the fake editor or use a fictitious name for the paper in the movie. (Lawrence Grossman)

8) Self-criticism has never been a strong suit of the press. Journalists have rejected attempts at organized criticism just as the body rejects implants. (Cohen 11)

9) How art imitates life is bumptiously changing it around so that the story tells better. (Lacayo 18)

10) It is simply wrong for a filmmaker in the pursuit of making a "docudrama" to use real names, but then fictionalize the story for dramatic purposes. If real names are used, then it is the responsibility of the filmmakers to get the facts right. (Brookes 18A)

11) First and foremost, when a journalist and sometimes journalism professor (Lowell Bergman) or any other who professes to be dedicated to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth conspires with a screenwriter to concoct a movie about himself that portrays him, by name, saying things he never said and doing things he never did (like quitting over a principle as Mr. Pacino did but Mr. Bergman didn't) and is so comfortable with the fraudulent portrayal that he lends his presence to "hyping" the movie, that is not a journalist I would allow within a hundred miles of a newsroom or a teacher I would allow within a thousand miles of a journalism school. (Hewitt 8)

12) The Insider may be only a movie, but it does recall a remarkable period during which every top national television news organization was deeply embarrassed by a major newsmagazine scandal. ln 1993, NBC apologized to General Motors and paid millions of dollars in legal fees over a faked investigative report on Dateline that planted an "incendiary device" in a GM truck to make sure the truck exploded in a crash. Two years later, ABC apologized to Philip Morris and paid $15 million in legal costs for a story on Day One alleging that the tobacco company "spiked" its cigarettes with nicotine, even though many thought the piece was right on target. Later that year came the 60 Minutes tobacco debacle. And in 1998, CNN joined the malfeasance parade, repudiating its own investigative report on "Operation Tailwind," narrated by Peter Arnett, alleging that the United States had used poison gas in a raid inside Laos during the Vietnam war. (Lawrence Grossman)

13) In real life, Wigand is an elusive figure. His accounts of his own saga have twisted and turned over time. For example, Wigand has denied under oath virtually everything attributed to him in Vanity Fair. Wigand's sworn testimony is also riddled with contradictions, and he has admitted that some of his most damaging allegations about B&W -- notably that the company used rat poison in tobacco products -- were wrong. (Osborne 78)

14) That nicotine was the ingredient in tobacco that induced a habitual craving for, dependency upon, or addiction to smoking cigarettes -- call it what you will -- had been common scientific knowledge for much of the twentieth century. (Kluger 742)

15) Notwithstanding the artifice the movie-makers employ to tell the real story, no one will leave the theater under the illusion that Christopher Plummer is actually Mike Wallace, that Al Pacino is really Lowell Bergman, or that The Insider is an entirely faithful and factual account of what happened, although most people undoubtedly will feel, as Marie Brenner does, that the movie version is close enough to the truth. But "close enough" is an ironic standard for a "true story" about journalists; journalists do cross every 't,' dot every 'i' and check every fact because when fact and fiction are blurred, the world of reality becomes the world of make-believe. Therein lies the difference between how journalists and moviemakers tell stories. (Lawrence Grossman)

16) Executives of the network news divisions say that they will report any story of public interest and import without fear or favor, without considering its potential commercial consequences. They say that, but do not believe it. (Bergman 50)

17) And though the benefits of luxuriating in Hollywood's waters continue to lure journalists and media organizations alike, there are some dangerous currents. (Stein 12)

18) The real gangsters are tobacco barons in Louisville, Ky., and network lawyers in New York City. They speak in genial or condoling tones; they have only the best interests of their corporations at heart and truly hope you see it their way. Otherwise they'll crush you. Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur (played by Michael Gambon) has a manner as smooth as the draw of a Kool menthol into the lungs, and every bit as toxic. A CBS attorney (Gina Gershon) softly, crisply tells the lords of 60 Minutes that they must submit to a higher authority--Mammon. The byline is nothing compared to the bottom line. It's a dark reality that Mike Wallace (a deft impersonation by Christopher Plummer) has to juggle. Does his loyalty belong to his current CBS bosses or to the ghost of Edward R. Murrow? (Richard Corliss)

19) Characters shed no blood in The Insider, merely principles -- those pesky intangibles that on rare and special occasions trip up the march of corporate greed. (Peter Travers)