Sometimes the Truth Hurts
By Skip Sheffield
“Spotlight” is a movie aimed right at the likes of me, who has spent a lifetime in journalism. Based on actual events, “Spotlight” even has a main character I knew casually when he was an editor at the Miami Herald.
Marty Baron was a hotshot editor at the Miami Herald when he was hired away by the Boston Globe in 2001 to be managing editor (Since Dec. 2012 he was been executive editor of the Washington Post). Not only had Baron pursued aggressive journalism, he had cut 15 percent of the Herald staff and reduced costs. This is music to the ears of the corporate owners of newspapers, which were then riding high.
When there is a new Sheriff in town, everybody is nervous. Baron’s abrasive, aggressive reputation preceded him, and he was further an outsider because he was Jewish in an overwhelmingly Catholic city. He didn’t even like baseball. Baron is played by Liev Schreiber, who is skilled at playing feisty, Type-A characters. His introduction shakes up the status quo of Spotlight managing editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) who is a Boston native and loyal to his town and to his church. Robby heads the elite four-member “Spotlight” investigative reporting team.
“I think we can do better,” Baron says ominously.
Specifically he notices there have been stories about molestation of children by Catholic priests that have been either ignored or buried in the back pages of the paper. Campaigning for a larger investigation of the accusations is star reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo). With Baron as boss the investigation can move forward with meticulous research by reporters Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian James d’Arcy) and ultimately the entire Globe staff.
Mike Rezendes is certain eight cases have been covered up. As it turns out there is a far greater conspiracy, or “gentlemen’s agreement” amongst the church, police, lawyers and the paper than anyone could have imagined. With the endorsement of publisher Ben Bradley (John Slattery), and the help of insider lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), the Globe will ultimately win the Pulitzer Prize for reporting and the Cardinal of Boston diocese will step down.
It is hard to make investigative reporting exciting. Most of it is done in libraries, newspaper clipping morgues, police stations and houses of ordinary people. McCarthy and his crack cast keep it interesting and yes, even exciting. As with “The Big Short” there is an unpleasant aftertaste with the victory. These institutions we trusted lied to us. With newspapers waning in power and influence, one wonders who will stick their neck out to get at the truth? “Spotlight” is a timely reminder of the importance- make that the necessity- of a free press in a democratic society.