Jeffrey Wigand, who inspired Russell Crowe’s character in the 1999 movie The Insider, emerged from the sealed world of Big Tobacco to confront the nation’s third-largest cigarette company, Brown & Williamson. Hailed as a hero by anti-smoking forces and vilified by the tobacco industry, Wigand found himself at the center of an epic multi-billion-dollar struggle.
The anti-tobacco forces depict Jeffrey Wigand as a portrait in courage, a Marlon Brando taking on the powers in On the Waterfront. The pro-tobacco lobbies have been equally vociferous in their campaign to turn Wigand into a demon, a Mark Fuhrman who could cause potentially devastating cases against he tobacco industry to dissolve over issues that have little to do with the dangers of smoking. According to New York public-relations man John Scanlon, who was hired by B&W’s law firm to help discredit Wigand, “Wigand is a habitual liar, a bad, bad guy.” It was Scanlon’s assignment to disseminate a wide range of damaging charges against Wigand, such as shoplifting, fraud, and spousal abuse. Scanlon himself, along with B&W, is now the subject of an unprecedented Justice Department investigation for possible intimidation of a witness. For First Amendment specialist James Goodale, the charges and countercharges B&W has attempted to level against Wigand represent “the most important press issue since the Pentagon Papers.” Goodale, who represented The New York Times during that period, said, “You counteract these tactics by a courageous press and big balls.”