As I was picking up some things from Amazon, last week, I took the opportunity to buy the movie “Spotlight.” I’ve been meaning to see it ever since my parents raved about it when they saw it last year.
“Best movie I ever saw. Non-sensational, unsentimental. Should be required viewing in all journalism schools.” ~Bluz Mother
Every time we spoke on the phone, they’d be, “Have you seen Spotlight yet? You’ve got to see it; you’ll love it.”
I didn’t doubt it; it’s just that “Spotlight” isn’t the kind of movie I go to see in the theater. (The new X-Men movie is… which I also saw that over the weekend… definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the franchise, regardless of how it was reviewed.)
Then “Spotlight” won all those Oscars… and was then referenced by President Obama during the Whitehouse Correspondent’s Dinner. So yeah, I’ve been meaning to see it and I finally got the chance over the weekend.
The verdict? Phenomenal. Great movie, one of the best I’ve seen in ages. It should do for modern journalism what “All the President’s Men” (about the Watergate break-ins and cover-up) did for print journalism in the 70s.
In a nutshell, it’s the story of how four Boston Globe reporters from their “Spotlight” team investigated the practice and systematic cover-up of child abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area.
They start with one complaint and slowly begin uncovering more and more instances of sexual abuse committed by clergy. Then they begin to peel away the other layers: the lawyers who secure settlements with the church in exchange for silence, the evidence that disappears from legal files, and the whack-a-mole relocation of predator priests from one parish to another, leaving them free to cultivate and assault new victims.
The pervasiveness of the criminal acts was astounding. The film noted (in context by quoting a researcher on the subject) that 6% of Boston’s priests had been involved in acts of child abuse. Six percent of Boston’s clergy totaled to approximately 90 priests. Ninety! All of whom were shifted from parish to parish, with stops at “rehabilitation houses” in between, where they would receive “treatment,” only to be let loose to abuse again, year after year.
This behavior was no secret, either. The reporting team found “smoking gun” emails that went all the way to the Archbishop. (Or is it the Cardinal? I can’t keep all the hats straight.) I also remember from news stories of the time, that during Pope John Paul II’s term, Popus Emeritus Benedict was the guy at the Vatican who ran the Whack-a-Priest program.
This scandal ran to the highest reaches of the Catholic Church and they did absolutely nothing to protect the children from abuse. Their only concern was to keep a lid on the story. They paid off victims, bought their silence, had physical evidence stolen, records redacted, and looked the other way while pedophile priests continued to destroy young lives.
I swear; I almost wish I hadn’t given up on Catholicism all those years ago, just so I could quit now. It’s such a massive case of misplaced priorities. And here we are in 2016, bending over backward to appease their self-reverential “religious freedom” demands against providing insurance to cover birth control for those who want it.
I don’t see how anyone can listen to anything they have to say again. It’s a morally bankrupt institution, who is in the business of regulating morals.
My other reaction to the movie is on the journalistic side. “Spotlight” demonstrates the difference between journalism and the sloppy, rumor-laden, unsupported mess that passes for news, online or otherwise.
There are still organizations that practice journalism, you just have to hunt to find them. Too often, our nation’s finest journalists are lumped together with the hacks that populate other less than reputable sites, which lowers the esteem of the entire profession.
Investigative journalism isn’t just writing what you think, or even writing what you know; it’s writing what you can verify. Competent journalists require sources, usually more than one. Their work is vetted by department editors and sometimes even the editor-in-chief, if the story is important enough.
Politicians hate journalism; that’s a given. Politicians have an interest in controlling what you know; it lets them get away with what you don’t know. So the last things they want are journalist poking around their investments, or their previous jobs, or exactly what they’re up to.
And who do they blame when they’re caught with their hand in the cookie jar? The journalists, of course. Shoddy journalism, two-bit hacks, the dreaded “liberal media”… on and on they go in an effort to blame the messenger.
I seriously considered going into journalism when I was in college. Like many, I loved to write and I was moved by the work of Woodward and Bernstein in “All the President’s Men.” I thought it would be a worthy pursuit.
And it is… it just wasn’t for me. I’m totally the wrong personality type for the job. It’s no job for an introvert. No way could I spend my life cold-calling strangers for information, or heaven forbid, just showing up at their doors. I’d have had an ulcer by the time I was 25.
I would be much better suited to be Publisher, Managing Editor or something. I’d be perfectly fine with sitting around going, “Run it, boys. Good job.” Or, “Don’t do that again or I’ll reassign you to the obituaries.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t many entry-level managing editor jobs.