"Spotlight" team visits campus, illuminates injustices

by Natalie Busch / Beacon Staff • November 4, 2015

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Members of the Boston Globe Spotlight team participated in a discussion after the screening.
Members of the Boston Globe Spotlight team participated in a discussion after the screening.

Update (Nov. 9, 11:20p.m.)

In early 2002, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team of four investigative journalists shone a light on the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated and covered up by the Catholic Church in Boston. The reporters earned the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for their work. Now they’re center stage again, with director Tom McCarthy’s recreation of their investigation and coverage of the scandal in his latest film, “Spotlight.”

Last Monday night, the Bright Family Screening Room hosted a free advanced showing for the Emerson community. The movie doesn’t open in theaters until this Friday.

Ben Bradlee Jr., who was the deputy managing editor of the Spotlight team, was played by John Slattery in the film. Bradlee, now the author of several books, said after the screening that he had two aspirations for the film.

“First, and maybe paramount, [we hope] to shine renewed attention on this terrible problem of sexual abuse,” Bradlee said. “And secondarily, we hope that this film underscores the importance of investigative journalism in a democracy.”

After the film, there was a discussion with Walter V. Robinson, Ben Bradlee Jr., Michael Rezendes, and Matt Carroll, four of the Globe journalists involved in the investigation. Susanne Althoff, a writing, literature and publishing assistant professor and former editor of the Boston Globe Magazine, moderated the talk.

Rezendes, who was played by Mark Ruffalo, said the cast paid close attention to real life details.

“I think we all feel that the movie does a fantastic, unbelievable job of accurately portraying the substance and spirit of what we did,” Rezendes said. “I’ve never seen a movie based on a true story that was in fact so realistic.”

According to Anna Feder, the director of programming, all 174 seats were full for the showing. She said that four journalism and three writing, literature and publishing classes attended the screening.

Samantha Avalos, a freshman journalism major in attendance, said it was great to hear from the experienced reporters.

“They were giving so much great advice,” Avalos said. “I learned how to separate your emotions from the facts and how to tell an unbiased story.”

Trevor Howell, a sophomore visual and media arts major, said the film gave him a greater understanding of Spotlight’s investigation over a decade ago. Howell said the it provided insight and advice to students of other majors, too.

“It really spoke to journalists and filmmakers alike—and actors [too], because the acting performances were really solid,” Howell said.

Rezendes, who is still on the Spotlight team, said journalists should always ask questions and never assume a source will refuse to talk.

“Most people in general want to tell their story to someone,” Rezendes said. “If you just give them an ear and express some sincerity, I think pretty much anyone will talk to you.”

Ellie Wells, a sophomore visual and media arts major, said she was particularly impressed by Ruffalo's performance, and that she enjoyed the discussion among the panellists.

“I thought they gave really insightful responses that also felt very genuine. You could tell that they were there because they wanted to be there,” Wells said.

Walter V. Robinson was the editor of the four-person team in 2002 and was played by Michael Keaton in the movie. Testifying to the realism of the cast’s performances, he told an amused audience that if Keaton robbed a bank, the police would arrest Robinson.

Robinson said reporters for the Boston Globe might actually receive less cooperation from potential sources than newer journalists, and that students should take advantage of their youthful charm. As a former Globe intern who went on to work there permanently, Robinson offered the audience some practical advice, which drew laughter from the crowd.

“No matter what you’re doing in a newsroom, whenever you’re within sight of supervising editors, always walk fast and purposefully no matter whether you have somewhere to go or not,” Robinson said. “It worked for me.”

On a more serious note, Robinson said the investigation taught him to have less deference for iconic institutions.

“There are a lot of injustices in this world,” Robinson said. “And [if] all of us—not just people at newspapers—listened a little more closely, then we’d uncover more.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Samantha Avalos' name as Samantha Abalos.