“Spotlight” Shows Best of Journalists
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Here’s the double feature I’d like to see: “All the President’s Men” followed by “Spotlight.” Both are masterful movies about newspaper reporters breaking a big story.
Aside from this theme, the two films have more in common than you might think.
“All the President’s Men” tells the true story about Washington Post reporters who exposed the Watergate scandal. “Spotlight” relates the true story about Boston Globe reporters who uncovered a pattern of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Both started as small local stories -- one about a petty burglary, the other about a bad priest -- but unraveled as global scandals.
Both won Pulitzer Prizes.
The first series of stories was overseen by the Post’s executive editor, Ben Bradlee; the second overseen by the Globe’s deputy managing editor, Ben Bradlee, Jr.
Father and son.
But watching both films it is the reporters who deserve the loudest applause.
In “All the President’s Men,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) are the stars of the film; Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards, Jr.) is a supporting player.
In “Spotlight,” Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo), Walter “Robbie” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) are the stars; Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery) leads the supporting cast.
But “Spotlight” has a hidden star, Marty Baron. Baron was the Globe’s new editor, the outsider who bucked the city’s code of protective silence about the Boston archdiocese, insisting that his Spotlight investigative team look into the story of a priest accused of child abuse.
That unraveled a pattern of deceit and cover-ups within the Church that stretched around the world. “The issue there was not just whether a priest had abused children, which there had been cases of that before, but whether there had been a pattern of abuse and that the church knew about that abuse and then reassigned priests to other parishes where they then abused again, and whether that pattern had taken place over a long period of time,” recalls Baron. “In fact, it had in the case of dozens and dozens of priests over decades.”
So he printed the story, in fact a series of stories. Despite pressure to look the other way.
As a result the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer.
But that wasn’t the goal. Baron was merely shifting the Globe’s editorial focus from international events to locally centered investigative journalism. And doing good.
Recently, I met Marty Baron. Ironically, he is now the editor of the Washington Post. At first glance, you’d mistake him for Liev Schreiber, the actor who plays him in “Spotlight.” Lightly bearded, with glasses and curly hair, he was quiet, focused, cordial, smart.
“Spotlight” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.
I was so impressed with the film, with its accurate depiction of how journalists work, that I suggested to my editor she might want to take her staff to see it.
Kay Harris was a step ahead of me. She replied, “We went Sunday -- it was terrific and has sparked a lot of conversation here!”
At a time when Gallup Poll reports that trust in mass media is at an all-time low, I wish everybody would attend my fantasy double feature. A viewing of “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” might help the general public restore its confidence in newspapers. Both films make a powerful case for the integrity of reporters, seekers of truth determined to get at the facts.
As one of the reporters says in “Spotlight,” “We’re going to tell this story, we’re going to tell it right.”
That’s what good journalists aspire to do.