Wide Range. Cultural Focus. Editor Patrick Neithard

Journalism Showing Its Core Aims in Spotlight

“Spotlight”, the Catholic Church Abuse Drama and Investigative Journalism Movie, based on the culmination of real events around 9/11 in Boston premiered last Thursday in Zurich. Told with dedicated precision and non-sensationalist distinction, it reveals passionately what journalism can and always should consist of: the revelation of truth and the disposal of knowledge. That`s why it won “Best Picture” and “Best Original Screenplay” at the Oscars last night.

By Patrick Neithard, March 1st 2016

It`s a historically grown schism, grown in the midst of our democracies – throughout centuries. Mankind, in its aim of evolving and unfolding in an age of reason claims soundness in judgement and proceeds in search for knowledge. And still aims to find sense and depth in creation and thus leans towards faith.

When the Boston Globe in July 2001 gets a new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the new man of jewish descendant with a disinterest for a spouse and football, and with the gruesome job to perhaps make painful staff cuts, takes a close look at the Globe`s several departments from newsy “Metro” over to in-depth research team “Spotlight”. He also notices allegations made by columnist Eileen McNamara who had previously accused the Boston archdiocese of a cover-up in abuse cases. Baron, already well familiarised with the investigative, long-term research desk “Spotlight” suggests to its chief Walter “Robby” Robinson (a sleekish networky Michael Keaton) to further investigate on the topic. Robby, (“We investigate constructional outfit and such, we work a year on research”) unaware of two Boston Globe – internal flaws at this point, accepts reluctantly, yet Baron convinces him: “It`s an essential story for a local newspaper, there should be at least shed some additional light on it…”

What sets off then, after a quick briefing in the Globe`s undergound “Spotlight” office, quietly, but nonetheless effectively busy, would result six months later only in the unveiling of a largest-scale scandal. On January 6th 2002, the Boston Sunday Globe surprises the citizens of post-christmas catholic Boston with its front page article “Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years”. The “Spotlight” lead article, a shocking revelation, and, fact-proportionately a much longer than usual one, was the beginning of the uncovering of the most bizarre, beyond bigot, disproportionate relationship between a great many number of catholic priests practicing in Boston and their catholic community. Their wrongdoing: A nearly systematic child abuse on a regular basis during over 30 years. And it abused not only children, it subordinated a whole faithful community. Victimising and forever damaging children`s lives, these priests, in the field of several kinds of abuse active, subjected their victims to child molestation starting partly at the age of four. This first article, written by Michael “Mike” Rezendes who in it presents two priests as precedential cases (Porter in 1992, Geoghan until 2001), was co-researched and investigated by the whole “Boston Globe Spotlight” team, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Bryan d`Arcy James), while supervised by Ben Bradley Jr. (John Slattery) and Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton). The article hit off a worldwide tsunami of revelations. But the way to it was long, it was obstacled, and it was hardest work.

Wins for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture at the Academy Awards

“Spotlight”, it`s script`s skeleton following tightly the backbone of this virtuosly written article (which won the team of journalist the Pulitzer Prize in 2003) sheds both a light on the team and on an investigative journalist`s work. In Tom McCarthy`s film, their lives, aims and methods step out from behind stale black names printed on paper.

Screenwriter and director Tom McCarthy (co- screenwriting was Josh Singer, both shared  the Academy Award for best original screenplay) holds the audience right away in a gentle, non-manipulative grip. In a brief prologue to the film predating to 1976, a family is sitting in a Boston Police Department waiting room. Officers to the law discuss the neglecting of the mother`s aim to file charges for sexual abuse on a child, while jibber-jabbering that abuse by catholic priests in a catholic city was just a rumour. And what seems to have been grinding to a halt back then, justice, law, reparation, reason, can now, in 2001, after the new Boston Globe editor`s assignments and its cascading down to the Spotlight team, finally find new motion in the swarming off towards different possible leads. And there is a possibility of one, then again, two, priests, as offenders. If only there was evidence. And then there`s Phil Saviano (Neal Huff) coming forward, and as head to a victims help group “SNAP” who discloses two things. Firstly the complexity of how children from ephemeral situations end up on the lap of the fatherly priests, mislead into their delusion of gaining affection after longer periods of struggle. These children`s paths, in those cases of abuse, Saviano tells, end up in sexual abuse, in child molestation, and their grooming into permanently abusable victims by abusing god-given power along with rhetorics expressing perpetuated, oppressive secrecy. Forming a traumatic physical and spiritual abuse. But Salviano discloses a second fact, and that is one of the flaws of the Boston Globe: He already had contacted the Globe five years prior to this date. And was let down.

It`s a journalist-movie at a first glance, as it, at rare times, operates within the thrill-giving dribbling-off from small hints to perhaps peanuts to leads in need of sceptical scrutiny, and larger connectable dots alright, but this time, other than in State Of Play for example, there is no political main act to hunt down, to rip apart. There is no sensation at hand. Instead, there are victims who have to walk as wounded souls since childhood. Wounded in their faith and trust. And it`s happening in Boston, a city with a high percentage of faithful catholics. After an industrious research including the Globe`s in-house archive, the connectable dots and facts appear insufficient to reason to the whole team. Facts are needed to be found outside. From victims. Perhaps even from offenders as well. In “Spotlight”, the journalist`s professional and personal prerequisite to go out into the world and find victims who may agree to talk as sources to needed information is carried forth in “Spotlight”s magically interwoven cast. A cast awarded as Outstanding Performance by a Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards 2016.

A cast as real as can be: two actors, Academy Awards nominated

Rachel McAdams` Sacha Pfeiffer is both agile and grounded, adaptable, highly distinct, gentle, worldly. But she does not show what she also is. Inquisitive and persevering. Sometimes, one has to hide skills to use them. It`s what got McAdams an Academy Award nomination. Her role here, albeit in yet another role as a journalist, is much distinguished from the one as an online blogger in “State Of Play” opposite a pernickety, grumpy I`m-paper-and-not-online-ennobled journalist (Russel Crowe). In “Spotlight”, she is allowed to hit other buttons than just “Hit enter” at the end. In “Spotlight”, her Sacha Pfeiffer manages to juxtapose her ongoing face-to-face investigations with one victim who, 20 years after his abuse, talks about the repeated and orchestrated offenses done to him. And McAdams` Pfeiffer combines the exquisite agility with trustworthyness when she realises that, be it sheltered in a café, or outside, for this survivor, psychological buttons may be pushed anywhere: “Here, a church. And right beneath it a children`s playground” he tells her when coming forward only under a pseudonym. Her layered performance peels off without being wary when she cannot disclose her current work topic with her deeply religious Nanna who, until that January 6th 2002, goes to church three times a week, being one person of the bostonian 55% roman catholics. And when she and Robinson team up and pay a visit to Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup), some lawyer who seems to be an attorney who, as recorded in publically non-disclosable files, arranges nifty settlements with alleged priests in absentia of the public “We mediate, and there`s a settlement, and that`s that”, that too, she shrugs it off. Still, that is how far she gets for a while. That`s how she discovers a clergy controlling the law in order to malpractice. In order to be criminal.

Ruffalo`s Zenendes boils under the lid

It`s what earns him the Academy Award nomination this year: Mark Ruffalo`s Mike Zenendes is an intellectually sturdy, catholic raised portuguese north Bostonian who, as we find out, as a youth opted out of church with the inner promise to come back, one day. Pragmatic and brainy, Ruffalo`s Zenendes is ambitiously fuelled and silently driven by a glowing, inquisitive and faithful heart of gold beating deep down while he sees his part of the project through. It is well known already that Zenendes is a gifted writer since the article, (it`s where the screenwriters of “Spotlight” knew exactly what to cut out, what to present) and so here, Ruffalo`s Zenendes learns fast when he too meets another busy lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) who, different from the one Pfeiffer has to face up to, helps those victims making their settlements. In court. While being discreet is the journalist`s official assignment, at some point, Zenendes has to disclose “I`m from something bigger, I`m from Spotlight” in order to gain access to Garabedians knowledge and lawful power. One of Garabedian`s clients, Patrick McSorley, agrees to an interview, and even more so to disclose his name to the newspaper. He is, since the age of 12, after his father`s suicide a semi-orphan with a schizophrenic mother. And he names Geaghan, who, back at that time, with the aid of vanilla ice-cream, and shallow shelter, touches child Patrick. In all the wrong places any other than the heart. It`s where Ruffalo isn`t Ruffalo anymore. He is Zenendes, one whose heart sets out behind his nodding pensiveness, while he notices the interviewee`s injection scars shortly before he leaves the Garabedian office. Here, Stanley Tucci`s Garabedian just nods: “ He`s one of the lucky one`s. He`s still alive.” That’s how far Zenendes gets, for a while. But now, he boils, brim-filled with the urge to uncover. All of it.

Best directing and editing nominations for the Oscars

The visually literate cinematography is highly paired with the score. Its synthesis is a miracle. While the camerawork translates the complexity of all threads and hints and gives widescreen views on marble-and-glass towers, it also, almost welcoming, captures the home to a cold-snouted working world: wealthy, self-sufficient law, and it zooms in generously when white lies by paid lawyers ( MacLeish) are coldly snapped off by invisible fingers. Into a shrugging, “duly noted, yeah well, I thought so; still”- face of McAdams`s Sacha Pfeiffer. Moreover, it keeps distance and changes POV when, in a non-representative office, Zenendes tries to get a first grip of a speedy, back-offish, screaming-busy and righteous Garabedian, a non self-righteous one, who has tried and helped and is even followed by the Church and has just, simply, simplest, nooo time for some babbling press, as being in touch with the press once did not help, why should it help now. All these individually identifiable sequences are expertly threaded and mended by a soft, gentle, mild, “lets not forget who really is the victim here” -editing (Academy Award nominee for outstanding editing Tom McArdle). And while this observing eye, this cinematography, delivers, soaks up each situational chemistry and captures it, adapts (Masanobu Takayanagi) and patiently waits during the journalists most industrious work, and in classical shots of meetings finally binds the spread-out-while-working-journalists back together, in retrospect, the individually mastered camerawork seems even more plausible. It`s so much more than a journalism movie. It is bestowed with the soulful riches of six characters with an inner glow, it breathes in precise sequential breaths, where it needs to be allowed to. And “Spotlight”`s sonic sound-tapisserie at times rushes, (score is by Howard Shore) like an inquiring spirit, pianissimo, but never con too much brio, playfully trying, moving forward, backwards, like wind, partly gently, partly persistent cold breeze, never tearjerking, but to silently, psychologically urge and hope. To find any moss-overgrown stone and leave none of it, none, none, none of it unturned, even if beneath these stones, worms are found. This formal eloquency, despite my growing desperation within due to the journalists research topic, had me marvel.

Psychology, the graceful way out?

In a classical montage, then, there`s work. A calculation. After a phone hint by Richard Sipe, (Richard Jenkins) a former priest, now a psychiatrist who detected the priests psychosexual pattern offers a figure and a percentage. He won`t come in, show up. Protects the researchers, as he himself is followed by the Church. He knows too much. He calculates: There are 1500 priests in Boston, and those prone to pedophile, sexually abusive acts crawl back under the Churches protective coat of repentence of their sins. Some blame catechism for it. And celibacy. It`s just “fooling around”, one should say when interviewed. After being treated in a psychological facility for priests, they get a different placement, and all is covered up, sick leaves, is what that is called. Is what Sipe has found. The percentage itself, 6% of 1500 priests, might equal 90 possible offenders, predators, priests in Boston. In grammar schools, in sports schools. In Church choruses. Everywhere. These records can be found in diocese yearbooks, and that`s what the montage does: 30 years of yearbooks, phone book-like lists are now under scrutiny. A lot of time is invested. Cover-up sick leaves are excel-filed, names listed. The pattern is simple: what repeats in the list, is a possible offender. Often it is confirmed by a following placement in a different community. And the number of priests in the end adds up to 87.  The staff, reluctantly, agrees, what Editor-in-chief finds. With such a number, their bottom-up strategy is at its end. 87 cases, each singularly disclosed, would all end up in quicksand. A collier of pearls torn up into its pieces, thrown in front of piglets. The strategy needed its reversal. Top-Down. Getting the bull by its horns.

“….it takes a village to abuse a child”

From now on, things get both rocky and confrontational. A provoked MacLeigh discloses his reasons for his ignorant acts, which are to be found within the Boston Globe. He once sent a list. He had done all the settlements, so he had a list. But was ignored. Pfeiffer pays retired father Paquin a visit. What can be said right here about this eerie, spitless-swallowing sequence is what Garabedian will say at some point to Zenendes: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one”, and “The Church thinks in Centuries”. Both Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) witness real life scenarios with kids on bikes adjacent to homes of abusive priests. It`s the inversion of a witch hunt, only that in “Spotlight” it simmers, rather than that it boils over. The number 87 closes in on them. The work is pushed forward. Cutesy religious Gala`s, fundraisers really (as obviously the costs for settlements need to be covered somehow), and bars are being used for rhetorically fine spread threats, the chief of staff begins to prey in on Church personell. Formal bonds, handshakes, thrills, threats and counterthreats, that is what follows in order to get the Spotlight team the final edit: the signature of approval. Of that list. And then, as the work seems nearly done, one airplane crashes into the Pentagon, two airplanes crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another crashes to the ground in Shanksville, Pennsilvania. And then there he, finally, appears in the newsroom of print journalism. Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) holds his televised sermon. Untouchable behind a TV screen, he is a free man responsible for the victimization of children subjected to his own faith, his Church, his responsibility. The film however will call these victims carefully survivors. Who, for a longer period of their lifetime, had been walking the wire, with an abyss behind them and a blur of threatening depression ahead of them. Abuse destroys many facets of a person. The ability to adequately love and self-love, the ability to trust. And if the abuse is done by the Church, then, what science perhaps may not be able to give, here, even faith cannot give. Cardinal Law however speaks his sermon against hate as reaction to the grievances during the 9/11 attack.

The work of Spotlight lays on ice for six weeks. Those willing to testify fear a letdown. They threaten to take all the work with them and move it to “The Boston Herald”, they start beating white-clenched knuckles on tables. Until Spotlight shines again. Nearly in a landslide, seals can be lifted, as Garabedian was lucky during a back-and–forth with a priest who, at one point had agreed to testify against his colleagues, but pulled it out last minute. Still, that one thing got his hems in while filing a public motion. He could not escape the net of the law. Suddenly, everything, in a wonderful array of things, unfolds. An incorruptible judge, albeit catholic, Constance Sweeney (Laurie Heineman) in a court ruling, orders the files to be publically disclosed and reinstated. The long arm of the church is cut off. Copied letters in files unveil the spill shoved under the carpets during decades. Letters of evaluation, letters of recommendation by psychiatric facilities for priests, letters containing claims by mothers. All the hard won facts and figures which to this day exist as own joted down notes in the hands of the journalists now prove correct and become physical evidence, proof. Yes, its classical journalistic polishing when in the end Zenendes, briefly after a near-meltdown out of impatience, and out of heartfelt (and more than one heartful-) involvement (where his heart of gold glows, but it won`t break) as a writing journalist looks for adjectives, adjectives, adjectives. When he sports his deadline, and finally that print press is rolling.

and it is…. Well… It`s out there finally

It happened even despite a disclosure within the team: The second Boston Globe flaw points at its Spotlight Teamleader Walter Robinson. Somewhere down that team`s journey, after lawman MacLeish`s disclosure that he had actually given a list to the Globe, and Pfeiffer looked for it, and had found, instead, an old Globe news article written by Robinson. An article which perhaps had been placed back minutes after their first archive checkup. Privately, she had handed it to Robinson who, for a long while, up until this moment had not shed a word about it. Perhaps it was his wise foresight. Who, other than him, had connections to those who would sign that list his team worked for? Who would have led that team, working together seamlessly, should he have gotten into a fight over a forgotten, once written article without putting his finger on the subject? Robinson`s article had been the only one he had written in his former function as newsy “Metro” man. On the very same subject.  Perhaps it was even what the columnist Eileen McNamara had picked up. Somehow this had come full circle. And as the stink is out, it`s McAdams` Sacha Pfeiffer who in a simple one-nod-mimic wraps this hard hit up. Silent judgement.

It`s a movie telling about quality journalism uncovering inequalities, unfairness, and flaws  in todays systems. And people in it. People who will react differently to a topic. Law,  journalism, sciences, none can yet afford to think in centuries.

Still baffled, I`m sitting in my chair, while “Spotlight” allows me a final parenthesis, connecting prologue with epilogue. I read white on black: ” Up to 600 more stories were written on the scandal by the Boston Globe. 249 priests and brothers were publically accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese. The survivors figure at 1000. Cardinal Lew resigned in 2002 and was reassigned to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the highest ranking Roman Catholic churches in the world.”

The worldwide Tsunami of revelations of child abuse by the catholic Church counts as follows:

“105 major additional scandals have been uncovered in the U.S.A.

101 major additional scandals have been uncovered outside the U.S.A.”

© 2016 A Sharper Blur and Patrick Neithard all rights reserved

Boston Sunday Globe, January 6th 2002


Spotlight, Runtime 128 min, CAN USA
An Anonymous Content and Rocklin Faust Production
Presented by First Look Media, Participant Media, Open RoadProducers Blye Pagon Faust,Steve Golin,Nicole Rocklin,Michael Sugar
Director: Tom McCarthy
Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi
Editing: Tom McArdle
Score: Howard Shore
Mark Ruffalo: Michael Rezendes
Michael Keaton: Walter „Robby“ Robinson
Rachel McAdams: Sacha Pfeiffer
Liev Schreiber: Marty Baron
John Slattery: Ben Bradlee, Jr.
Stanley Tucci: Mitchell Garabedian
Brian d'Arcy James: Matt Carroll
Gene Amoroso: Stephen Kurkjian
Jamey Sheridan: Jim Sullivan
Billy Crudup: Eric MacLeish
Maureen Keiller: Eileen McNamara
Richard Jenkins: Richard Sipe
Paul Guilfoyle: Peter Conley
Len Cariou: Kardinal Bernard Law
Neal Huff: Phil Saviano
Michael Cyril Creighton: Joe Crowley
Laurie Heineman: Justice Constance Sweeney
Richard Jenkins: Richard Sipe

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