I’ve wanted to watch the Oscar-winning movie and true story of Spotlight for some time now. Sure enough, we watched it for our journalism class this past Friday, and it did not disappoint.
The story is about the Boston Globe newspaper’s four-person investigative journalist team, Spotlight. They pushed past social and institutional obstacles while uncovering the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal with its priests in Boston (which led to the uncovering of more cases worldwide).
In the movie, a representative of the Globe’s publisher mentions that 53 per cent of its subscribers were Catholic in 2001. In a city like Boston, the Catholic Church’s influence on the lives of many of its citizens is immense. The Spotlight journalists needed to cut through the social constraint and pressure from colleagues, friends, and family of pursuing a holy entity like the Catholic Church.
It felt like an insurmountable objective: reveal a scandal everybody knew about, but nobody wanted to acknowledge.
When Spotlight needed to interview the survivors of sexual abuse, the obstacle of trust was a factor. Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian said that the victims wanted nothing to do with the press and TV because of the guilt and shame they carried.
Journalists Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) talked to the survivors with such understanding and respect, and made sure they knew the importance of including the disturbing details in their stories. The world needed to know about the ungodly things the priests did to them.
The Catholic Church is a powerful religious institution. It had its puppets in the Boston legal system. Rezendes spent most of the film waiting for sealed case files to be lifted by the court. It turned out that they were public files all along because of a motion from Garabedian. However, the files weren’t in the courthouse at all because the Catholic Church ‘didn’t want them there.’
When the Spotlight team found out there were no paper trails for past cases, they kept asking questions and dug for answers. Rezendes needed the patience and persistence to push for Garabedian’s trust and help. Garabedian finally let him know that the sealed case files they were waiting for were going to be public again after he refiled them. Rezendes scrambled hard to get his hands on those files. He needed to convince a judge to persuade the clerk to let him look at the files, then he needed to pay the guy all the cash he had just to photocopy them.
Lifetime friendships were tested to get the truth out as well. Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), head of the Spotlight team, needed confirmation of 75 cover-up cases from the Catholic Church’s side in order for the story to be legitimized. He needed his friend and source Jim Sullivan, who represented the Catholic Church in most of the sexual abuse cases, to go on record and confirm the priests names. But Sullivan played it coy until the end.
Robinson stayed firm and told Sullivan he needed to be on the right side of things despite him only ‘doing his job.’ Sullivan was obviously torn, and in the end he realized that confirming the names of the pedophiliac priests was the ethical thing to do.
There are more obstacles that I’m missing, like the fact that Robinson realized he didn’t follow-up on the story five years before. All the evidence was sent to him and he didn’t pay it the attention it deserved. What a heavy self-obstacle. I believe, because of that, he was much more determined and motivated to get the story out, in order to rectify his own mistake.
But watch it for yourself. Try to view it from a journalist’s perspective. Would you push as hard as the Spotlight team did for the sake of the truth?
(Blog Challenge #9: Describe/detail the various obstacles the journalist characters in Spotlight faced in getting to ‘the truth’ and publishing their first exclusive story. Examine how they pushed past them to get the job done)