It's certainly not something you can build on.
You can't trust anybody. The basic tenet these days is that it's okay as long as you get away with it—it's a result of the long shadow of the situational ethics that were introduced to the American people as "normal" in the world of politics (as it had probably been for as long as there has been politics) during the Watergate investigation. But, it was there in the McCarthy investigations. It was there in Teapot Dome. Every war has its situational ethics espoused by both sides—loudly by the winners, bitterly and stubbornly by the losers. You read both sides in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and they're situational.
It's in the world of public relations. It's in advertising and advocacy. Lies, damn lies and statistics. There's so much "spin" these days it makes your head...spin.
But, the truth is...there's such a thing as truth. Immutable truth. Facts. Inarguable facts...no matter how loudly and constantly you argue with and about them. Facts are NOT situational, no matter how much you may want them to be. Wanting it does not make it so. Cherry-picking them merely skews, it doesn't change the facts. Facts are stubborn things.
But, one has to know what one is talking about. And one has to know what the stakes are. And that takes a defining of terms. Without the defining of terms, one just invites chaos and disaster. And one hopes...one hopes...that a consensus can be reached on those, lest things devolve to a state where everyone can agree about only one thing—that things are really messed up.
The Set-up: James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is a lawyer who has as his client an insurance company and he sits down with the lawyer for "the other side" in a setting-down of rules of engagement and definitions of terms.
Mellow jazz piano...
DISSOLVE TO INT. THE HARVARD CLUB
Two middle-aged men sit in club chairs facing each other. Each holds a tumbler of scotch.
DONOVAN Don’t say “my guy.” He’s not “my guy.”
BATES Yes he’s your guy. Who’re we talking about?
DONOVAN We’re talking about a guy who is insured by my client. So don’t make him “my guy.”
BATES Okay, fine, my point is he -- the guy insured by your client -- he doesn’t deny any of these things happened --
DONOVAN “These things?”
BATES Yes. These five things.
DONOVAN Wait. Hold it, hold it, hold it. Not five things, one thing.
BATES Clearly, it’s five things.
DONOVAN Well -- I’m sorry -- it’s not clear to me.
DONOVAN Five things? Explain it to me.
BATES It’s self-evident.
DONOVAN Okay, then tell me what happened, tell me the story in a way that makes sense. For five things.
BATES Fine. Absolutely. Your guy --
DONOVAN Not my guy. Insured by my client.
BATES The guy insured by your client -- is driving down State Highway 19 when he loses control of his car, hits my five guys.
BATES The five guys who hired me to represent them because you’re not honoring your claim.
DONOVAN You mean my client is not honoring the claim. The insurance company.
BATES Mr. Donovan: we’re all clear on who’s who here.
DONOVAN Except, my client honors every claim.
DONOVAN They do, Mr. Bates, every single legitimate claim. Up to the limit of their liability,DONOVAN ...which is $100,000 per accident in the case of this man’s policy.
DONOVAN And this is one claim, according to your description. “He hit my five guys.”DONOVAN The guy insured by my client had one accident, one one one, losing control of the car and hitting five motorcyclists.
DONOVAN Look Bob -- may I? Bob?
DONOVAN (gestures to self) Jim.
DONOVAN If I go bowling and I throw a strike, one thing happened.
DONOVAN Ten things didn’t happen.
BATES Jim. My clients are not bowling pins. As much your guy might have treated them so --
DONOVAN Lemme finish. If your house is insured to $100,000 and a tornado carries it away, it carried away one house.
DONOVAN It didn’t pick up every stick of furniture and destroy it in a separate incident.
DONOVAN If that’s what you’re saying...
DONOVAN ...then there is never any limit to our liability and that is the end of the insurance business.
DONOVAN And then, Bob, nobody is safe.
Bridge of Spies
Words by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen
Pictures by Janusz Kaminski and Steven Spielberg
Bridge of Spies is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Touchstone Home Entertainment.