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Film critique

“Goodnight and Goodluck” and “The Insider” are two films that touch basis on revealing the journalistic truth when facing ethical dilemmas. Both films portray how necessary it is for there to be trust between journalist and the subject at hand. Through a trusting relationship, it’s possible for the truth to surface, even if others may be put at risk. However, in order to overcome these dilemmas and report information that is accurate and helpful to the autonomy of the individual one must consider the stakeholders at hand. After examining all factors and thinking which may be affected by the outcome, then can one’s decision be made. These films are made in a close time period to be discussing two events that took place almost 40 years apart. “Goodnight and Goodluck” is a film about how news reporter Edward R. Murrow, is attempting to expose and bring to light the unethical ways Senator Joseph McCarthy was accusing high-ranking officials of being involved in communist ties. Murrow, sticking close to his ethical obligations as a news reporter, went to great lengths to ensure the public knew the truth about Senator McCarthy’s scare tactics and manipulation of people’s fear. “The Insider” depicts the struggle of a man who has created an additive for cigarettes which makes it more addictive and harmful for users. Now, with the pressure on him, he must find a way to expose the truth to the public.

Some of the main ethical dilemmas in both films faced by these journalists revolve around the idea that they faced very life-changing decisions. For instance, when Fred Friendly was visited by two colonels, they told him and his colleagues to not run the story on the United States Air Force unrightfully dismissing Milo Redulivish. The Air Force didn’t want the story to be published because they tried Redulivish, found him guilty, and to be a security threat without any evidence against him. The evidence they claimed to have was in an unopened envelope and never seen by the jury, judge, prosecutors or anyone else involved. From here Murrow was facing the moral dilemma of reporting the truth to the public so they could see the way suspected Communists are being outed, while also keeping in mind the protection of himself and his news outlet, who was facing legal ramifications for exposing Senator McCarthy. In the wake of these broadcastings, Murrow remained confident in his decision to move forward with pressing the Senator. His producer, Friendly, continued to back Murrow’s decision to report these facts to the public. On the other side of the spectrum, Bill Paley, the owner of CBS was worried about the outcome of Murrow’s reporting and led him to be hesitant. In addition, Don Hollenbeck was worried about his safety and position within the news station from the beginning because he had ties to communism in the past.

Similarly, The ethical dilemma presented in “The Insider” is whether or not 60 Minutes should air the interview of Jeffrey Wigand testifying that the third largest tobacco company was putting harmful products in their cigarettes that he made in order to make them more addictive for users. Again, the news station was skeptical to air it because there was a confidentiality agreement between Wiegand and Brown & Williamson, that Wingand would never disclose any information about what happened behind closed doors or else they would sue him and threaten the well being of him and his family. Another dilemma seen in the film is Wingand constantly battling himself as to whether or not he should tell the truth to the public and adhere to his integrity or to company loyalty. Wingand battled himself as to whether or not he should break his agreement and be honest with the people. In the end, he was true to himself and told the truth of what these companies were doing to people and lying about it. I think this was the best decision for Wingand, for he may have lost his family, but he did such a greater deed to the people. Both characters, Murrow and Wingand make the toughest call of their lives when they decide to put themselves at risk in order to protect the greater good.

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Trust acts as a vital role in journalism and nonetheless contributes to the most important theme in each of these motion pictures and plays a huge role in both moments of history. A great example of this is displayed in “Goodnight and Goodluck”,” as Paley put an enormous amount of confidence into Murrow to properly report his story and do it in an honest way to where it wouldn’t jeopardize or scrutinize the credibility of the news station. Without Paley’s okay to run the segment on Senator McCarthy, it’s unlikely most of this would have unfolded the way it did. The most important role of trust portrayed in the film was the faith that Murrow sought from the public. He had full belief that the public trusted the material he was reporting and that he was investigating and delivering what they needed to hear. Over the years he had built a blanket of trust between himself as a journalist, and with the families of America; yet, sometimes that trust is spent in controversial times exactly like this. Murrow abides by the rules of his job, which are to seek the truth and report it. Additionally, there was a constant need for trust among everyone in the newsroom. They are certain that nobody in the newsroom has any past or present affiliation to communism because it could create a bias and could also be acting as a spy. There is an unspoken contract between everyone that there will be honesty and moral reasoning put into all decisions being made.

Equivalently, Lowell Bergman needed to create a sense of safety and assurance between himself and Wingand. In order to get the news story and information, he wanted Wingand had to see that he is a trustworthy and credible man that belonged to a credible institution. Since Wingand was under an agreement it was essential that Bergman was extremely careful with the information he was gathering and how he would eventually deliver it to the public. In the same context, it was vital that Bergman trusted Wingand as to whether or not he was truly telling him accurate information. Finally, Bergman must be hopeful that his peers will ultimately have it in their right interest to air the interview, so the truth can be told to the people. The two movies immediately establish that both Murrow and Wingand’s main goal was to achieve the truth, attempt to gain the trust of the nation, and as professional journalists, adequately report to the public at any cost.

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Although both Murrow and Wingand are the protagonists in each of their stories, they do make some very questionable decisions that most consider being wrong or unethical. This concept is illustrated when Edward Murrow was confronted by Don Hollenbeck explaining how he is concerned for his safety and his career with CBS since it had been proven he had connections with communist organizations. Murrow then made the honorable decision to continue with his plan in exposing Senator McCarthy. Later in the film, it was said that Hollenbeck committed suicide, prompted by his overwhelming amount of fear. Personally, if I were to be confronted by a colleague about how they are being fearful of their own safety or job, I wouldn’t shrug it off like it was nothing. I would take into account his feelings in the decisions I would be making from there on out. Thinking of myself really being in that situation, I would probably go through with the story because as a journalist it is one’s duty to serve the public and relay accurate and truthful information so they can self govern adequately. If I went through with my story, and with his concerns in mind I would ask that he either be cut from the team that is investigating this story. If that weren’t possible then I would proceed with extreme caution and hope that the concepts I discuss don’t actually have an effect on him because it’s strictly speculation.

Furthermore, I also disagree with Wingand’s decision to manufacture and produce this harmful chemical that he knew would be used in cigarettes in the first place. Wingand previously worked in the healthcare field, and with that being said, it seems obscure that he would switch right over to doing the opposite for the people. He most likely created this harmful substance for the money, but I personally could never do that. It doesn’t matter how rich you are or how much stuff you have, if you’re not being a good and ethical human being, then the rewards you receive don’t hold as much importance. If I were Wingand, I wouldn’t even have started working for the tobacco company. There is nothing good about cigarettes especially with the effects it has on the human body. I would have rejected all offers made to me by these companies. I understand it can be quite tempting to resist considering the amount of money he was making for such a small price he personally has to endure, but ultimately, it’s better for the mass if they don’t have this product in their cigarettes which makes it more toxic and harmful. If each character was slightly more in touch with their humanity the outcome of both situations would be entirely different; yet ultimately, when stuck between saving their careers and families or helping millions of people, they made the right choice in which I cannot disagree with.

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Lastly, both films in their likeness discuss stakeholders and the impact of each of Murrow and Wingand’s rough decisions and ethical dilemmas. It is known that stakeholders are parties that can be affected by someone’s actions as media professionals. It’s important that each of these components are considered before making a virtuous decision. In “Goodnight and Goodluck”,” CBS lost of one their biggest financial supporters, ALCOA and aluminum company, after several airings of Murrow exposing McCarthy’s scaring tactics as unjust. Secondly, Murrow also didn’t think in terms of his professional colleagues. His coworker Hollenbeck took the hardest fall due to Murrow’s poor moral reasoning. Overall, Murrow may have failed one of his colleagues while also putting the institution at risk due to the loss of financial support, but he stayed true to the purpose of his job. Murrow served the community justice in reporting truthful and accurate information so they could make informed decisions, and this is what makes his actions so impactful. Now, contrastingly, the film “The Insider” takes a blow at many stakeholders. Wingands individual conscience is never at ease throughout this, as he is constantly at war with himself. He is aware of the agreement with the tobacco company and of what will happen to his life and loved ones if he decides to share their secrets, but he also has this drive to tell the public the truth about what is really in the product they’re smoking. Not only do these decisions have an effect on him, but they also directly affect every aspect of his life. He makes the proper decision to tell the truth about the additive making nicotine more addictive and in the end, the safety of his wife and kids is put at risk. Finally, society is being put at risk due to CBS initially refusing to air the segment. If Bergman never leaked the information to the New York Times, it’s unknown if or when the truth would have been told. Thus, both characters deal with the negative consequences surrounding not taking into consideration the influence of stakeholders on the ethical decisions they face.

In the end, both characters were able to relay their truth to the public. These films and their themes are important because it shows how far media professionals will go in order to maintain their credibility to their clients and the public as well as achieving the purpose of their jobs. Although various ethical dilemmas were portrayed through both movies the characters adequately went about their investigation and acknowledged the parties that were at stake before coming to a decision which affected more than just themselves. Ultimately, no matter the cost, reporters will put everything on the line in order to provide the public with the truth.

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