There is truth to the fact that every organization is simply a reflection of the foundation at the very top. The dysfunctional nature of the du Pont corporation may be exhibit “A” of proof for that truth, and the recently-Oscar-nominated Foxcatcher puts that dysfunctionality on display for the world.
Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carell, tells the story of John E. du Pont, an heir to the massive du Pont fortune. Du Pont is a wrestling enthusiast and invites both Mark and Dave Schultz – Olympic wrestling champions – to join his private wrestling team, “Team Foxcatcher,” named after his father’s racing stable.
The brothers eventually both join the team, albeit under different circumstances, and move to western Pennsylvania to train at du Pont’s facilities. Mark, after a defeat in the Seoul Olympics, leaves Foxcatcher farms, but Dave stays on with du Pont.
Eight years later, du Pont shoots Dave Schultz three times, killing him in the driveway of the home on the du Pont estate in which he and his family lived. Du Pont then barricades himself in his mansion for two days while he negotiates with the some 75 police officers sent to the scene. He is ultimately arrested, and eventually found guilty of third degree murder, but was deemed mentally ill and sentenced to up to 30 years incarceration at the State Correctional Institute.
Those familiar with the du Pont family, including a former neighbor of John E.’s, Ann O’Neill, said that the movie, and Carrell in particular, captures “this entitled homicidal nut so well that I completely forgot I was watching a guy who plays it for laughs in Judd Apatow comedies.”
“The movie dishes up plenty of crazy,” wrote O’Neill for CNN. “Carell/du Pont drives a tank, flies a helicopter, shoots off guns and cannons, has postages stamps made in his likeness, crashes a couple of Lincoln town cars into the frog pond, drinks like a fish, calls himself the Dalai Lama and gets grabby with the wrestlers.”
O’Neill also recounts an instance where she discussed with the prosecutors on the case, Dennis McAndrews and Joseph McGettigan, whether du Pont actually suffered from paranoid schizophrenia like experts had testified or if it was all an act.
McAndrews described him as “a self-absorbed, entitled rich guy,” and when asked of his opinion on du Pont, “McGettigan did not mince words. Du Pont wasn’t crazy; he was a jerk.”
“Some people are just basically jerks,” McGettigan told O’Neill. “Whether he was born a jerk or made a jerk, he was a jerk. He was a mine guy. Money was inconsequential to him. When you have years and years of enabling by scores of people because of your incredible wealth, it can veer into tragic circumstances.”
The criminal activity exhibited in Foxcatcher isn’t just limited to John E., either. The DuPont corporation is currently facing thousands of lawsuits regarding drinking water contaminated by chemicals the corporation continuously used in the manufacturing of Teflon.
The chemical behind Teflon, C-8, was known by DuPont to be capable of causing serious, permanent injuries including birth defects and cancer, and DuPont knew it was contaminating the water source for nearly 80,000 residents around Parkersburg, West Virginia. Yet the company disclosed nothing regarding the effects of C8 until after a lawsuit over the death of a herd of cattle which lived downstream of the DuPont facility.
A timeline of events surrounding C-8, pulled from a lawsuit by Ned McWilliams, a partner at the Levin Papantonio Law Firm, shows that DuPont had concerns regarding the potential toxicity of C-8 as early as 1954 and had confirmed by 1980 that the chemical was “toxic,” and that “continued exposure [to C-8] is not tolerable.”
With a family full of people so willing to overlook the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people in the interest of profits, it’s no surprise that John E. ended up the way he did.