“Spotlight” Reporters Didn’t Back Off
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Whenever Ben Bradlee, Jr. got together with his dad they talked shop. Newspapers and journalism. Maybe a little baseball.
Both of these stories won Pulitzer Prizes for their papers.
“We used to note the similarity of the two stories,” Ben Bradlee, Jr. says. “Both started with what appeared to be small stories, one about a local burglary, the other a piece about one bad priest. Little did anyone expect them to become global exposés that shook the foundations of two important institutions.”
Ben Bradlee, Jr. spent 25 years with the Boston Globe, 10 as a reporter and 15 as an editor. In November 1993 he was put in charge of the Globe’s investigative unit, a handful of reporters known as the Spotlight Team.
It was this small group of journalists who over a two-year period (July 2001 to August 2002,) uncovered a history of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Boston, a discovery that caused reverberations reaching all the way to the Vatican. Church documents, official testimony, and victim interviews unveiled a story of secrecy and deception. The Archdioceses had gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up the scandal. Over the past decade it had quietly settled child molestation claims against at least 70 priests.
“The story was in the documents,” Bradlee says, shaking his head as if trying to clear away a bad memory. “They were sexually abusing kids.”
The Boston Globe received that 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service “for its courageous, comprehensive coverage ... an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”
A book titled “Betrayal” followed. And now a movie.
“Spotlight” -- named after the Globe’s investigative team -- is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.
“A movie was the last thing we were thinking of,” Bradlee says. “But it’s been a pleasant distraction.”
Film producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust pitched the idea to the reporters. “They had lined up a great director (Tom McCarthy), a great script, and an A-list cast,” says Bradlee.
Playing the four investigative reporters on the Spotlight Team are Mark Ruffalo (as Michael Rezendes), Michael Keaton (as Walter “Robbie” Robinson), Rachael McAdams (as Sacha Pfeiffer), and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron) takes a seat at the editor’s desk. And Bradlee is portrayed by John Slattery (best known for TV’s “Mad Men”). Toss in Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, and Billy Crudup -- and you have a great ensemble cast.
“John Slattery contacted me, then took the train up to Boston the next day,” recalls Bradlee. “We had lunch, talked over several beers. That was followed up by many dinners. We became friends.”
How was Slattery’s portrayal? “I kid him that he put too much swagger into my character. But colleagues tell me he got it about right.”
Marty Baron was the new editor at the Globe, a fresh arrival who had worked at the LA Times, New York Times, and Miami Herald. It was his idea to pursue the story.
“All four reporters had been raised Catholic, but Marty was Jewish.” The warnings from the Church were subtle. It was pointed out “this outside editor would one day be gone, but that the reporters had to stay and live in their communities.”
But nobody backed off.
“We were proud of the story. We nailed it. We held an important institution accountable.”