Investigations at the Boston Globe by Richard Jones


A look at Spotlight (M)…

MAYBE you sit up and pay more attention when it’s your craft or profession under the microscope on the silver screen, so I have to say I was riveted during the 128 minutes of this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture.

The Spotlight team from which the film’s title is derived is the investigative group of reporters who were working at the Boston Globe in the early 2000s. Headed by Walter spot‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) they systematically peel back all the layers of obfuscation and legal manoeuvring instituted by the Catholic Church to hide the child molestation perpetrated by priests and teaching brothers in the greater Boston archdiocese.

It wasn’t an easy task. Apart from an outwardly charming but morally conflicted Cardinal there were also leading lawyers, businessmen and college principals who didn’t want Robby and his team to get anywhere near the truth. Backed by their Jewish editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) – and remember, it’s in a city full of Catholics – and reluctantly at first by senior deputy editor Ben Bradlee jnr (John Slattery) the team starts on a marathon paper chase.

A lot of old material, some filed by Bradlee himself, is buried deep in the Globe’s archives in the building’s dungeons. So there’s a lot of scurrying around among dusty old newspaper clippings. And when an eccentric victim’s lawyer (Stanley Tucci, replete with a full head of hair this time) finally agrees to share some of his material with rumpled and possessed Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) the hunt is on in earnest.

Another member of the Spotlight team is Sacha (Rachel McAdams) who is more measured than Rezendes but just as compassionate. Her brief is to find the victims. In this crusade she even doorstops a wacky ex-priest who starts to blurt out a form of confession before he’s dragged back inside the house by the former cleric’s furious and invective-laden sister.

Robby is the pivotal character in the Spotlight investigation, though. He even plays social rounds of golf with some of the people he’s determined to go after. In an exclusive club bar one evening a senior church identity from the education sector is unable to finish his drink when Robby lets him know who and how many are going to be exposed. Just as our own current Royal Commission has brought to light, priests and brothers were transferred from one section of the diocese to another – and even out of state and to Ireland – with a few victims compensated in an arbitrary and completely unsatisfactory manner.

It’s probably the best newspaper film since All The President’s Men in 1976. Robby’s team implicated 249 priests and brothers in child sexual abuse and quite a few of them for repeated offences. Some of these offenders had been moved from other dioceses, but sure enough they continued to groom and molest children once hunkered down as supervisors in Boston and its suburbs.

You watch as the team goes about its investigations with a rising sense of fury. Nonetheless in view of the Fairfax Media staff walk-out in Sydney and Melbourne as I write, just how much longer will newspapers be able to maintain investigative teams? The work of these dedicated journos doesn’t see the final light of day until months and months of painstaking research has been compiled, checked and double-checked. And all the while their salaries still have to be paid Melbourne’s The Age has a small, dedicated crew.

Still, Spotlight’s silent and unspoken question about the future of print journalism remains front and centre: for how much longer can investigative teams, let alone print newspapers, survive?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s