If you haven’t seen Spotlight yet, you really need to. It’s based on the true story of a team of Boston journalists who investigated and exposed the shocking amount of Priest molestation cases that were covered up by the Catholic Church.
Spotlight received widespread critical acclaim, was heralded as being a very accurate depiction of events, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay in 2015. It boasts an all-star cast including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery.
It’s a fantastic film, and as my Journalism teacher, Joanne Kelly, essentially said in class, “It’s amazing how a film about a bunch of people sitting around a table can put you on the edge of your seat.”
The film gives you an in depth look at how far journalists have to go to get to the bottom of a story. I think there are some people, including ones I watched the movie with, who would say that they crossed the line on some occasions, but I would disagree. We are shown throughout the movie how skeptical many of the characters are to really dive into this story because of the gravity of the situation and the power and the Catholic Church to bury a story. Not to mention that the majority of The Boston Globe’s readers at the time were Catholic.
For example, when Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews one man who had been a victim of molestation he describes what had happened to him, saying that they went to the Priest’s house, talked about sex and homosexuality and then “things went on from there.”
At that point Sacha says, “Language is going to be very important here” when we break this story, “Just saying molest isn’t enough. People need to know what actually happened.”
She’s right. The word molest is used very commonly as a blanket term with these kind of cases and news stories. So much so that people just tune it out sometimes. You tend to hear what you want to hear when the truth is too horrific. Sometimes people forget what the word “molest” actually means. However painful the details might be, people need to know specifically what happened and how people were affected so that it doesn’t get “buried” by the church.
Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the journalist who clearly has the most ties to the Boston Catholic Community. And yet, by the end of the movie he has to confront a bunch of different people directly about their involvement in the cover up. He says to one of the lawyers involved “We’ve got two stories here. One about a degenerate clergy, or one about a bunch lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry.” Ethically speaking, this is kind of a threat, but I feel like it’s justified. It’s just the plain truth. If the lawyer won’t admit any information or involvement, the press is left to assume they were in on the cover-up. He’s offering the lawyer an opportunity to prove his innocence.
There’s another scene where Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) even bribes an employee at the public records building to let him use their copy machine just so he can get the documents to confirm the details of the story. When the implications of a story are this serious the facts need to be unquestionably corroborated, so he does anything he can to get those document and back it all up.
To anyone who might say that he only did this in order to release the story first and before anyone else, you see in the film that they actually wait a remarkably long time to put out the story. Time and time again the editors refuse to go to print until they have all the facts.
The reason Michael is working with such urgency is because he knows that if another paper breaks the story first “they’re going to butcher it,” he says.
I think there are so many great examples in Spotlight of how they toe-the-line to really get the story right and as quickly and accurately as possible. Spotlight is so well done, and I appreciate it now even more than I did watching it the first time around.
It’s asking the right questions. It’s tirelessly digging for sources. It’s looking at the ‘bigger picture’ before rushing to just put out a smaller story. It’s journalism at its finest.